"You're a misogynist!"—Emilienne stating the obvious to her louse of a husband, Claude.
The eponymous Emilienne is the uptight, bourgeois wife of Claude, a smarmy mustachioed cad who teaches art. She loosens up in a jiffy, though, when she meets Nouky—no, really, that's the character's name…I'm not joking—Claude's student and lover. Emilienne does some nude art modeling for the girl, which leads to a love affair that consists mainly of gentle, close-mouthed kissing and fast cut-aways. Since everyone's pretty much screwing everyone else at this point, Nouky moves in with Emilienne and Claude and a yawn-enducing ménage à trois ensues. Attachments shift, with one of the two women always feeling like a third wheel. Apparently, neither of them is capable of recognizing Claude as the grade-A asshat he is. Nouky gets knocked up and has a baby. Crushed, Emilienne bails in order to give the new parents space to work things out, and drifts into a life of seedy lesbianism. Still, things end amiably for everyone because, after all, they're sophisticated French people able rise above petty bourgeois concepts like jealousy.
Emilienne is so bad on so many levels, it's difficult to know where to begin. For one thing, it's the sort of old-school soft-core porn whose pretensions toward art manifest in its joyless, seedy, depressing tone. I suppose there's unintentional comedy to be mined by postmodern connoisseurs of this crap, but I found the entire experience dreary to the extreme. The lead character is a callow shell of a woman whose sexual awakening only makes her more so by film's end. Yuck. As a matter of fact, both Emilienne and Nouky are as eager as the hillbilly teens who populate The Jerry Springer Show to be crapped on by the stunted, self-centered man-boy that is Claude. I wanted to slap all three.
Let's pretend, though, that old-school soft-core erotica is your thing—there's not a film genre you consider more beloved. Well, in that case, Emilienne still sucks. Someone forgot to put the eros in this erotic film. In its most explicit moments (which aren't very), director Guy Casaril also ups the ick factor, as when the despondent Emilienne visits a creepy lesbian cathouse where dowagers ogle a line-up of hookers as hirsute as one would expect of '70s soft-core starlets. The whole scene makes skin crawl. If this is your sort of thing, I recommend sticking with higher quality crap like the Emmanuelle series.
Emilienne is available on DVD as a stand-alone title or as part of The French Erotic Collection. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is actually pretty decent. Blacks are solid, and colors well-saturated and natural, although there's noticeable shimmering along the edges of the picture. The source materials were far from pristine, but surprisingly good considering this is a piece of obscure European erotica nearly 30 years old. As good as the image quality is, though, the soundtrack couldn't be more disappointing. While offered in a fairly clean and hiss-free Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, the track is a painfully bad English dub. It adds mightily to the cheese factor. Nouky's shrill voice, in particular, goes straight to the spine and causes nervous twitching. On the plus side, Nino Ferrer's bass- and organ-heavy score throbs with the funky rhythms any respectable erotic film score from the 1970s ought to.
Emilienne is proof positive that peopling low-class erotica with cheese-eating, wine-swilling, pseudo-artistes does not make for true sophistication. A flaccid piece of erotica, everyone involved is guilty of the poorest taste.
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• Trailers: Emilienne, The Couples of Boulogne, Secrets of the Satin Blues, A Woman Possessed
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