Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Gwendoline (1984)

Based on a strong recommendation from someone whose tastes I resoect, I just had to see Gwendoline. It was actually quite a change of pace for director Just Jaeckin. While I have a soft spot for Emmanuelle it does take itself a tad seriously. That accusation certainly can’t be leveled at Gwendoline. This movie is just pure fun.

Gwendoline makes a spectacular entrance to the film, having being shipped somewhere to the Mysterious Orient in a packing case. She is trying to find her father, who vanished while hunting for a particularly rare and exotic butterfly. Gwendoline finds herself in the hands in the hands of some very shady characters, with her virtue in very real and imminent danger. Fortunately she and her faithful companion Beth are rescued by Willard.

Willard turns out to be an adventurer, although in fact he’s really just as much of a crook as the guys he rescued Gwendoline and Beth from. But Gwendoline manages to convince him to help her in her quest to find her father and the elusive butterfly. The methods she uses to secure his assistance are as underhanded as his own methods of doing business, and for that reason they prove quite successful. Soon this unlikely trio are trekking through jungles and trackless deserts, on the trail of exotic lepidoptera. They find more than they bargained for, including a lost city of amazons.

Being a Just Jaeckin movie you’d expect it to look gorgeous, and you’d be right. You’d also expect lots of sex and nudity, but in that respect you’d be quite wrong. The nudity is very tame indeed. And the only sex scene is between two people who don’t even touch (and it’s actually a very clever and effectively erotic scene).

Tawny Kitaen makes a delightful heroine. She’s not exactly a great actress, but it’s not like she’s playing Lady Macbeth. For the type of film this is she does a splendid job, combining wide-eyed innocence with feistiness and being generally rather enchanting. Brent Huff is equally good as the male lead, providing the right mix of cynicism and sexiness.

Jaeckin handles the action sequences surprisingly well, and the pacing is perfect. There are great locations (it was shot in the Philippines and Morocco with the studio scenes done in Paris), suitably bizarre S&M-flavoured costumes, great sets and just the right tone of tongue-in-cheek humour laced with adventure and romance.

There’s a commentary track by the director on the director’s cut DVD, with Jaeckin immediately establishing himself as charming and amusing and without any of the arrogance that is unfortunately so common among modern directors. He clearly had enormous fun making this film and he conveys that enthusiasm in his commentary. A wonderfully enjoyable romp of a movie. Highly recommended.

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