Four soggy slices of half baked brioche
Perhaps it's time now to forgive the French. True, when Hitler and his uptight party boys barged across the border and said surrender, those bouillabaisse buffoons soiled their Chevaliers and said "me qui." When soap comes calling to their armpits and nether regions, they scramble like it's free Brie night at the fromage factory and relish the spreading of their pheromones as a symbol of cultural superiority. And can you really trust an entire nation that celebrates the eating of snails, variety meats, and heart-clogging pastries, usually all in one sitting? Perhaps there are reasons to actually commemorate the French, to look beyond their as-pissed-off-as-a-third-world-society's attitude and yellow-bellied carpet diving and shout Viva la…something. The problem becomes…what to actually rejoice in. We could start with that delicious powdered sugary toast we all enjoy in the morning, but that probably has more to do with Aunts Jemima and Crocker than the subtleties of a Parisian palate. Fried potatoes, on the other hand, seem so far flung from their Nice namesake that, while customary to refer to them as the fries of the French variety, it seems more truthful to call them Universally Loved Deep Fat Fried Spud Rockets. And let's not even start on the whole Franco-American line of canned foods. If donkey-shaped pasta was meant to be served in pseudo-catsup sauce, all the world would be an Olive Garden. Even love has seemingly lost its Louvre way. It used to be that the French were considered masters of the mademoiselle, able to explain and enflame the fires of amore with a wink and a beret. But thanks to the recently released French Erotic Collection and the two DVDs reviewed here, it's clear that François and Maurice somehow got turned around on the path to erotic pleasure. Instead of celebrating the joy of sex, they treat physical love like it's the Dreyfus case all over again.
Facts of the Case
As part of a larger box set of films known as the French Erotic Collection, there are two DVD double features reviewed here. Package one contains the following:
The Couples Of Boulogne
Pepe LePew and his soon to be ex-wife Fifi LeFart are told by the French equivalent of a plot device that they will inherit several million faux francs if they find a doofus named Jacque LeStrap. So they do what every clue sniffing, human seeking craven couple would do. They have random sex acts with people of questionable linkage to their homo sapien payday. Most of the movie revolves around a randy roundabout where drivers pull up to the bumper of a possible paramour and proposition the profiterole out of them. Additionally, there is an extended sequence where we visit an orgy, taking place in a futuristic space-age sex pad complete with indoor/outdoor pool and underground groping grotto. Finally, there is some oddball subplot about a Sliver style government official who has his hacienda rigged up like a teen squat on The Real World, the better to videotape youthful and lithe visitors "doin' it." Does the couple ever find the financial windfall wiper? Do they ever have sex with each other? Is any of it remotely erotic? To copy a famous saying of the Basque—hell no!
While crossing the street one fine day, a woman agrees to fly off to Africa to be a seedy, stocky photographer's object de art. After lots of travelogue footage of wildebeests and baboons scratching their juju fruits, the portly picture taker gets the comely lass to strip off her standards and flash her Veldt all over the Dark Continent. As the perfectly perfunctory strangers learn more about each other, mostly in a horizontal mode, it seems that the street pick up is game for just about any jungle adventure—as long as it does not involve being tied up. Apparently that reminds her of being brutally raped as a teenager. After spending far too many minutes down that miscreant memory lane, we learn that our aqua-car traveling tramps (that's right, they left from France and traveled to Africa by aqua-car) have blown a gasket and cannot leave the crazy Congo without some manner of non-modern methodology. Do they escape the ultimate bestial backdrop? Do they discover a kind of April-October love between their radically age differential personalities? Is any of it the least bit sensual? To paraphrase ancient Sanskrit—hell no!
And then, just to add insult to imagery, the second DVD double feature contains:
The Awakening Of Annie
Poor little offal Annie. She meets up with a swarthy journalist photographer type in St. Tropez, and before you can say "Ban De Sole," she's doing a daring skip-to-my-lewd in nothing but her body fuzz. She is proud of these body shots, so much so that she agrees to travel to Brazil with this barely know him braggart to sell the notion of topless beaches to the randy residents of Rio. But seems like sin beat them to it as the saucy San Paolovians completely accept the clothing optional way of surf and turf diving. Eventually her concubine grows weary of Annie's virginal protestations and he tries to force himself upon her. This, of course, reminds her of a brutal rape when she was a teenager (since when did "erotic" = "sexual assault") and she runs off and into the arms of Hugo, the most effeminate man in all of Brazil. He loves to take photos of his countries natural beauty, which oddly seems to revolve around the cattle industry. They take a plane trip together to the Amazon that is, in turn, hijacked by desperate bank robbers hell bent on hideousness. Will Annie be raped again? Does the womanly Hugo stand an equal chance of unnatural prodding? Is any of it even within the vicinity of sexy? To quote the Mayans: hell no!
Winner of the Palm De'Arggh! for most overuse of tired plot devices in the history of so-called French skin flicks, a rich old man chases his nubile nurse to the edge of a cliff, where she falls. While the almost dead doofus looks for a ladder, someone climbs up to where the tumble down ditz is hanging and kills her. In order to cover the whole mess up, the miserly millionaire sends his son and future son-in-law to Paris to find a prostitute to substitute for the dead doctor's aide. They then plan on brainwashing her into thinking that the son loves her, then scarring her horribly with acid, and then having her face reconstructed by a shady plastic surgeon so that she looks like the real gone RN. Then they will kill her in a car wreck. Well, when Patricia, our Parisian paramour, turns up missing from her nightly rounds on the Rue de Retread, her burly pimp and his equally stocky skunk buddy begin the whore hunt. But when they learn she is part of a plot to extort money out of a man without having to perform unnatural acts, they marvel at this new way of franc furting and say "tre bien." Does the dying dollar hoarder get away with his plot? Is the flesh peddler's pimp hand strong outside the City of Lights? Do we finally get to see something scandalous? The Beginners Guide to Standard Erotic Thriller Plots says hell no!
Somewhere, somehow, the definition of "erotica" got goofed up. Used to be that you got a comely lass or two, a naturalistic setting like a babbling brook or incoherent stream, and some very artistic topless poses and voilà, instant eros. But as society mutated into a sick fetish feast where anything (including the writing and reading of DVD reviews) could be considered sex or sexy, the notion of what is and is not corporeal got a little too cumbersome. In the 1970s, you needed fresh-faced Clearasil queens, eager to show you the shirts off their backs in return for a healthy sense of fun and the value of personal liberty (and we wonder why their daughters grew up to be strippers). That idler of pop culture, Madonna, hijacked heat for a while, trying to convince us that if we crossed S&M with the Axis powers of WWII, we'd find some manner of sensual release. Britney and Christina re-ushered in the Me Decade's desire to glamorize the barely legal, even if they did add a decidedly raunchy and pierced faction to the flesh feast. Currently, all you need to evoke sensuality is some silicone, a body sculpted by untold technological advances, and Zalmon King, and bingo, you've got store bought and prepackaged booty by the bare bodkin full. But frankly, it's not very sexy. Unless you are one of those people who get "pumped up" (in another sense) while muscle men and women start the pose down during a bodybuilding competition, the thought of carefully controlled, overly groomed erotica seems shallow and substandard. Good sex has imperfections. Just ask Ron Jeremy.
It would be nice to state then that the French Erotic Collection is a harkening back to those kinder, gentler days of human debauchery, where men and women porked each other for the sake of an artistic shot in the sunset or a windswept day by the beach. When a body was viewed in the dappled light of an apple orchard or piles of hay made for strange and ready bedfellows. Well, maybe on Fiorna 161 they find this manner of motion picture, front loaded with sexual assault and painful repressed memories, a genuine jolly jumper, but for most, the films offered on these two DVDs will be a journey to Lake Flaccid. It's not for want of trying; all of the films here want us to believe they are naughty like a hunchbacked Notre Dame damsel. But the reality is that these misguided forays into flesh and fornication can't seem to understand the difference between physical love and physical abuse. For a nation that has defended itself as the benchmark setters for romantic rendezvous, unless an oaf is forcing himself onto a woman, or a ditzy pseudo flower child is readily reclining on the brambles for a little bushwhacking, there is no seduction or sensuality here. Each film represents a twisted desire to meld non-graphic tubthumping with minimal plot in order to create reach-for-the-raincoat cinematic sex aides. But the misogynistic, incoherent, and occasionally convoluted fashion in which they get the actors to perform the unskinny bop disconnects the scenes from sexuality, creating a kind of bland, Hallmark card version of vice.
Frankly, it's hard to imagine these films as being anything other than an art house excuse for what American exploitation filmmakers did a hell of a lot raunchier and racier on the home turf. Perhaps by gussying it up with fancy faux French trappings your friends and neighbors wouldn't look down their zipper at you as you walked from the theater, sheepish grin on your face. Maybe it turned the sordidness sophisticated or the humping haute coulter. But in the end, it also eviscerated it, making it as sexy as a Manwich and twice as unsatisfying. Individually, the movies are heaping mounds of meirde. The Couples of Baloney is the kind of mid '70s sleaze that reminds hedonists that, like Communism, free love only works in theory. Here, using that disease-increasing device of the pickup freeway—which honestly is the only intriguing aspect of the film—to supply the majority of the motion lotion, we end up seeing far too many pale Parisian backsides and underdeveloped European eunuchs to warrant pouch perpendicularity. And the attempted plot reveal—that the long lost Jacque is really a transsexual hiding from his rich official father—plays like a weak episode of Pierre Springer. As the actors move from position to counterposition, it's impossible to know who they are, what they stand for, and why we should even care. African Thrills is even more vague, offering too much stock footage of an Africa as envisioned by Mutual of Omaha and lots of shots of a naked ersatz blond flashing her hippos. The late addition of the teenage rape trauma gives the entire enterprise a decidedly sour taste, but at least we've got that Jetsons meets Jerry Lewis Aquacar to keep the comedy level to a bare tolerable minimum.
The second DVD, featuring Annie's awkward tale and the flawed double cross Unsatisfied is the true villain here. In The Awakening of Annie, we have a hectare and a half of ideas and scenes that will make the more mature of mindset in 2003 cringe with culpability. It's not just that, during his presentation on St. Tropez, our home movie maven shows dozens of scenes of pre-teen youths in the altogether (while very much in the "nature film" mode of presentation, it's still unnerving to a more culturally sensitive viewer). No, the worst part about Ann's awakening is that it came at the hands of a despicable, hideously ugly actor. Now, this reviewer is not one to dismiss stunt casting as a means of creating menace or merriment on the cheap, but the horribly mutilated man chosen to play Ann's attacker, complete with what looks like massive facial burns and overly fleshy lips, resembles an overcooked piece of pig's feet. And he plays the scene so sincerely, so "I want to force myself upon you Cherie" demented that it makes you sick in its Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer docudrama realism. Then add the strange, Amazon dream sequence that seems to indicate that the true path to inner enlightenment is via untold amounts of sex with incredibly unclean people and you've got a true taste of tetanus, a film capable of locking your jaw in the clamped, closed position for untold hours of tooth grinding.
But it is in Unsatisfied where this whole sex as servitude ideal gets overplayed and undercriticized. The death of the nurse is treated like an unfortunate but necessary by-product of home health care. Heck, if she's not there to administer medications and offer slaps to the patient's tickles, what else is she good for? The desire to then purposefully mislead, destroy, and disfigure a prostitute, no matter how dumb or deserving she may be in the eyes of the plotters, is just so wrong it's unconscionable. All the men in the film are bullies, from the brutish pimp who looks like Hans Blofeld's overly plump brother to the swarthy, sweaty son who is supposed to woo the wench into a date with the acid bottle. Unsatisfied may take a turn or two toward the redeemable by thwarting the death decisions of the malicious males, but that doesn't mean it's recommendable. Like the other titles offered here, it's a mean-spirited spit in the face of women everywhere, a heartless attack on the female form that readily relegates these supposed pot shots at sensuality to the battered women's shelter doorstep where they can be swept away like the memories of other abusive relationships. The French Erotic Collection offers us girlies who don't understand the meaning of the word "NO" and allow men to walk and wank all over them for the sake of some secret inner desire to be personally shamed and humiliated. And unless you are into degradation at its most malfeasant, you will find them as erotic as a tick bath. These movies are to be avoided at all costs.
As are these DVD transfers. Let's begin by discussing what's positive about these digital disc presentations. Well, first, they do play when placed in a machine and the "start" button is depressed. And, well, second, they do make fine decorative coasters. But if you are looking for defect-free anamorphic or full frame presentations, complete with original foreign soundtracks and copious extras, then perhaps another time, another place, and another era will have those bonus box sets for you. Here, we get trailers for the movies—which are just as bad as the movies, mind you, an unusually overmodulated and tinny, distorted Dolby Mono soundtrack with bad dubbing, and images that run the gamut from passable to solarized home movie horrible. Couples looks the best, full frame and relatively bright in color. Africa looks like an elderly German couple's Kodak moments. Both Annie and Unsatisfied are offered in widescreen, but it's a safe bet to assume non-anamorphically. Unsatisfied has a better print than Annie, but that's not saying much here. Overall, these are truly terrible transfers matched with no meaningful windfall material and sound like a 1950s transistor radio. Unless you are a sucker for punishment, you will find these offerings from the Erotic Collection a great big dose of digital and sexual saltpeter.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Look, no one is saying that your standard skin flick is supposed to be rock solid when it comes to plotting and characterization. Heck, if there is at least some halfway decent sharking and above board broadsiding, what more can you want from erotica? Even though it may be awkwardly handled and occasionally incongruous to the storyline, we get plenty of groin on groin, chest on breast action in The French Erotic Collection DVDs offered here. Where else would you find overly groomed natives from the Amazon exploiting their own personal rainforests? How about a sexy, sin-minded miss whose only hang up is posing nude in front of a wild muskrat? Where else could men who look like longshoremen and uptight tax collectors get acre upon acre of nubile young flesh to plow through? And where else would you find so many examples of mismatching cuffs and collars? If all you care about is nakedness, occasional scenes of naughtiness, and having nothing memorable to recall once the ordeal is over, then these movies are for you. They may not represent the pinnacle of pulchritude or the tiptop of T&A, but if you need an excuse to exercise your own personal options, you could do a lot worse than The French Erotic Collection. You could be glued to the boob tube watching She Spies.
Yes, it's true. In the year 2003, erotica is dead. Nothing is sexy or sensual anymore. Unless it beats you over the head with its unrealistic plastic surgery sameness or involves positions that even limber Tibetan monks wouldn't dare emulate, today's tawdry trysts are compartmentalized into serving niche needs and nothing more. Women want to see men with abs like limestone and buns like a bulldozer ramrodding the poor innocent to within an inch of her gag reflex. Guys want steaming piles of hot girl on girl action and…well, that's about it. Gone are the days when a male smoker consisted of stag films starring sailors deflowering matrons. If there's not some fascinating lesbo linguistics involved, Joe Sixpack would rather watch a guy nail gun his nut sack to a steamroller for a laugh. There is no need for wistful sundowner landscapes filled with posing athletic angels, stretching their limber legs to the sky as a slim muscled man caresses their calves. No one finds sandy beach blanket bingo that arousing, unless it is met with members of the Swedish bikini team and some gnarly BMX racers. As we move beyond the later 20th century with its decidedly salad days spin on sin, it takes more and more to crank up the carcass of carnality. And it's impossible to imagine that the dull, derivative DVDs offered here as part of The French Erotic Collection will add any grease to that piston. While they may represent the art of love in all its pedestrian European prettiness, it's a further indication of just how far we've moved away from the sensual. If you find this mess arousing, you are in need of serious libido control. Or perhaps you are French. So just drop dead, you cheese eating surrender monkey!
The French Erotic Collection is found guilty of being an asexual, passionless assault on physical and emotional love. Both discs are sentenced to life in the prison colony of French Guiana, were they will hopefully be beaten to death by Papillion. Case closed.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Awakening Of Annie
Perp Profile, Awakening Of Annie
Distinguishing Marks, Awakening Of Annie
Scales of Justice, Couples Of Boulogne
Perp Profile, Couples Of Boulogne
Distinguishing Marks, Couples Of Boulogne
Scales of Justice, African Thrills
Perp Profile, African Thrills
Distinguishing Marks, African Thrills
Scales of Justice, Unsatisfied
Perp Profile, Unsatisfied
Distinguishing Marks, Unsatisfied
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