August 2, 2021

“” Emmanuelle “, the longest caress of French cinema”, on Arte: anatomy of a myth


Originally there was a book, Emmanuelle (1959), published by rebel Eric Losfeld, written by Emmanuelle Arsan, the pseudonym of the Thai Marayat Bibidh, who became Marayat Rollet-Andriane through her marriage to a French diplomat. According to some, she wrote it alone; for others, it would have been written in four hands, or even exclusively by her husband.

At the beginning of the 1970s, a period still stuck but which is freeing itself, Yves Rousset-Rouard tries, for his first steps in the profession of film producer, to “Make a lot of money with a little funding”. He wants to buy the rights to adapt the book, but they have already been reserved by the brothers Robert and Raymond Hakim, two big names in the profession. Fortunately, they did not extend the pre-emption period.

Yves Rousset-Rouard hires Jean-Louis Richard, co-scriptwriter of François Truffaut, and directs the photographer Just Jaeckin, whose images he has seen and loved. The chance makes them fall on the young Dutchwoman Sylvia Kristel, still unknown, “A large blond stalk” with seductive freshness and naturalness.

At the time, we were still very far from what was happening in the United States, where a “hard” film like Deep Throat (Deep Throat, 1972), by Gerard Damiano, was released in theaters and attracted a considerable audience. French law still imposes a softer representation of sexuality, which the protagonists ofEmmanuelle, while trying to stay in the sulphurous groove of the Last Tango in Paris (1972), by Bernardo Bertolucci.

They even dream that Marlon Brando gives the answer to Sylvia Kristel. But it will be Alain Cuny, certainly seen in Satyricon, by Federico Fellini, released during the erotic year 1969, but rather associated with the austere universe of Paul Claudel… The surname of the actor (whom she considers funny on the poster of such a film) amuse moreover one of the speakers in Clélia Cohen’s documentary, which retraces and comments on the history of this now legendary film.

The “idea of ​​the century for a pittance”

Shot with a few pennies in Thailand, Emmanuelle, which nobody really believes, released in theaters in June 1974: it will make, in the first week, the double entries of the Last Tango in Paris, and will total 25 million after one year of operation. He will remain twelve years with the poster of a cinema of the Champs-Elysées, in Paris, in front of the office of the Hakim brothers, who will have missed the“Idea of ​​the century for a ridiculous sum”

Yves Rousset-Rouard will exploit the vein twice more (Emmanuelle 2, 1975, and Goodbye, Emmanuelle, 1977) then became the producer of another great success, The Bronzed (1978), by Patrice Leconte. Its co-producer will not change hands and will continue, with two other parts of the series. But without Sylvia Kristel, whose “Destiny is to pull over cars and become one man’s slut”, as the author, actress and director Ovidie puts it in crude but fair words.

Sylvia Kristel, who died in 2012, will certainly turn for Claude Chabrol, in Alice or the Last Fugue (1977), but she will never escape the image of her fixed by Emmanuelle, where she will have “Freed women by imprisoning themselves forever” as it is said in the bitter conclusion.

“Emmanuelle”, the longest caress of French cinema, documentary by Clélia Cohen (Fr., 2020, 52 min). Available on until August 23.