The original Emmanuelle movie, released in 1974, was an attempt to bring softcore porn to a broader audience, including women and couples. To make porn classy, and if not quite respectable then at least socially acceptable. To bring porn to the multiplexes. It was also an attempt to swim against the rising tide of hardcore porn. It was determinedly softcore.
Given that it happens to be the most commercially successful movie in the history of French cinema (and was a gigantic hit in the US and in fact everywhere else as well), I think it’s fair to say that it succeeded in its aims. You could actually walk in to a screening of Emmanuelle without having to hope that nobody you knew saw you. It was sexy, but it was stylish and superbly photographed, it boasted exotic locations, and it was at least an attempt to approach sex from a woman’s point of view. And it had a plot. The plot didn’t really consist of much more than a woman’s sexual awakening, but it was there.
There was never really any doubt that there was going to a sequel. In fact there ended up being many many sequels, some official and some unofficial. It was with the first of the official sequels that we are concerned at the moment, released under a bewildering variety of titles including Emmanuelle 2, Emmanuelle: L'antivierge and Emmanuelle the Anti-Virgin.
The big difference (and the big weakness) compared to the first film is the almost complete absence of a plot this time around. It’s really not much more than a series of sexual encounters. On the other hand it does have most of the other elements that made the first film successful - exotic locations (Hong Kong rather than Bangkok this time), beautiful cinematography, gorgeous clothes (although the actors don’t manage to keep them on for very long) and a general air of class.
And it has Sylvia Kristel. Emmanuelle made the Dutch actress a star, and one of the great sexual icons of the 1970s. She may not be the world’s greatest actress, or the world’s most beautiful woman (although she’s certainly extremely attractive), but she has undeniable elegance. She personifies chic. She knows how to wear clothes, and she knows how to take them off, and she does both with style and grace. And she looks like a woman, not a surgically enhanced silicone-boosted plastic barbie doll.
So is the movie any good? That really depends on your expectations. While Emmanuelle had pretensions towards being more than just a sex movie, and to some extent justified those pretensions, this sequel has no such higher aims. This is pure erotica. But it’s very very good erotica.
It’s a classic illustration of the huge advantage that softcore has over hardcore - when you have to leave some things to the imagination then the film-maker has to actually use his or her imagination as well. They have to work much harder to achieve the desired erotic frisson, and if they have sufficient talent the results can be much sexier than hardcore porn. And the sex scenes in Emmanuelle: L'antivierge are definitely imaginative, and they’re definitely erotic. Can you make an acupuncture session into a steamy and slightly kinky sex scene? This movie demonstrates that you most certainly can. The peepshow scene and the bath-house scene are object lessons in doing porn with style.
Emmanuelle is, by virtue of its historical significance and its ground-breaking sense of style, one of those movies you simply have to see. The same cannot be said for Emmanuelle: L'antivierge. But if you want classy erotica it delivers the goods.