The French erotic drama "Emmanuelle" was a mainstream U.S. hit in 1974, helped no doubt by Columbia Pictures' clever ad line: "X was never like this" (what -- boring?). The film's soft-focus softcore style and exotic locations became all the rage for a few years, and among the productions cashing in on the "Emmanuelle" name was "Laure" (1976), aka "Forever Emmanuelle."
No one named Emmanuelle appears in "Laure," but the connection is via actress and putative "Emmanuelle" author Emmanuelle Arsan, who appears here and is credited as the screenwriter. The film's on-screen directorial credit is "Anonimo" (Anonymous), though industry wisdom over the years has pinned the helming credit (blame?) on Arsan and/or producer Ovidio Assonitis.
But in the new interview with Assonitis included on this DVD, the filmmaker reveals the truth: The original "Emmanuelle" novel was written, not by Arsan, but by her husband, Louis Jacques, a diplomat with UNESCO, who for professional reasons could not reveal his little erotic writing hobby. So he gave authorship to his wife, and he was the director of "Laure" as well. But Assonitis explains that the finished film was not what Jacques had envisioned -- it was too sexual, and not sufficiently intellectual -- so he took his name off it.
All of which is the most interesting aspect of "Laure," a dated nudie with pretensions. Laure (18-year-old Annie Belle, with close-cropped platinum blonde hair) is the free-loving daughter of the director of an anthropological institute in the Philippines. A photographer she has just met, Nicholas (Al Cliver, real name Pierluigi Conti, regular player for gore maestro Lucio Fulci), accompanies her to a lecture at the institute given by ethnologist Gualtier Morgan (Orso Maria Guerrini). The professor describes a vanishing tribe called the Mara, who live on a remote Philippine island. Many of the Mara believe that on each summer solstice they literally forget who they are and take new spouses, new jobs, forget their children and presumably live happily ever after, or at least until the next year's solstice.
Morgan, his wife (Michele Starck) and their co-lover, Myrte (Arsan), along with Nicholas, Laure and a few other ill-defined characters venture out to the island to witness the Mara in action, but not before they've paired (or tripled) off in various hetero and lesbian combinations. The sex is very soft indeed, even for softcore, but there is skin galore and a deep attention to the actresses' pre-bikini-wax-era undergrowth. (Annie Belle is neither close-cropped nor platinum blonde everywhere.)
It may be due to the English dubbing of this Italian-language production, but some of auteur Louis Jacques' highflying ideas creep into the dialogue. Characters say things like "Love is a designation of a very simple relationship." Or "You're a decent woman with fine taste. How can you spend your time with jealous people? Jealousy is an obscenity." Yeah, whatever, get undressed.
Severin Films has done a fine job excavating this '70s artifact. The print is clean and generally good-looking, and is presented in the 1.78:1 widescreen TV standard. The dubbing is, well, dubbing -- rarely a good creative choice, the practice here comes off particularly canned. The sound in general (converted to Dolby Digital two-channel) is iffy, with some actors barely audible at times, and the overbearing musical score sometimes cranked to 11.
The main menu, featuring a still shot of a naked Annie Belle, offers Play Feature, Chapter Selections (there are 18) and Special Features. Those features are two new 15-minute interviews: one with producer Ovidio Assonitis, the other with stars Al Cliver and, via telephone, Annie Belle.
In addition to unraveling the mystery of the authorship of "Laure" and the original "Emmanuelle," Assonitis also reveals that he originally cast none other than Linda Lovelace as Laure. But after just a few days of work, he fired the "Deep Throat" star, saying, "She was on drugs, she was crazy, she was not a real actress." Remarkably, he adds, Lovelace's new-found religious faith prevented her from taking off her clothes on camera. Pretty much a deal-breaker that.
Of note to sex-in-cinema scholars: The interviews are backed up by stills from the production that are decidedly more explicit than what made it into the film. Also, a scene from the film playing behind an interview has Annie Belle being attended by three naked men, with one man's crotch strategically blurred out; in the film itself, there is no blurring, which may explain the box cover's "uncensored" claim.
Vintage erotica is always of interest in these parts, but "Laure," despite boasting some beautiful people undressed, is just not sexy. The mumbo jumbo about a search for a lost tribe in the Philippines and the Radley Metzgeresque ruminations on love seem to have been taken seriously by the filmmakers, but the audience for this film wants less National Geographic and more International Pornographic. Granted, you get some pretty amazing jungle footage (I bet Werner Herzog would raise an eyebrow and say, "Hmmm"), but a little less talk and a little more action would have been a good idea. Worth a look for "Emmanuelle" completists and nondiscriminating fans of erotica.