Thursday, 25 December 2008

Laure / Forever Emanuelle

Another day, another Annie Belle Emmanuelle film.

Aficionados will, however, no doubt note that I use the two M spelling on this occasion.

There is a reason: that Laure / Forever Emmanuelle was scripted and co-directed - albeit anonymously - by the real-life Emmanuelle and / or creator of the character, Emmanuelle Arsan, who also appears on screen, as Myrte, a friend of Belle's character Laure.

This makes, not surprisingly, for an intriguing case as far as theories of auteurism go, of a film which is officially credited to no-one, almost as if being from an unknown source in the manner of a number of erotic / pornographic works, but which clearly otherwise represents Arsan's take on Emmanuelle more than any of the other films bearing her / the character's name.

It's also strange to see Arsan in the flesh. Being of Thai origin, she is if anything more like Laura Gemser than Sylvia Kristel or Belle physically, more Black or Yellow Emanuelle than Emmanuelle. This also tends to put a different slant on the colonialist / exoticist / imperialist / orientalist - delete as applicable - aspects of the franchise, making the whole that bit more cosmopolitan and perhaps allowing for the possibility of challenging the binaries of the exotic and familiar and of orientalist and occidentalist discourses.

Will the 'real' Em(m)anuelle please step forward - Arsan as Myrte

The story in brief is that Laure and Myrte are part of an expedition into a remote area of the Philippines where they, along with Professor Morgan and hippie-type cameraman Nicholas - the inevitable Al Cliver - hope to make contact with a mysterious tribe, the Mara. Nothing so unusual about this, except that the expedition's intentions are more ethnographic than sensation seeking, with none of the usual cannibal ferox subtext or excesses.

Instead the Mara - a significant sounding name if we consider Hindu and Buddhist theology - represent something of the the innocence that has been lost by the westerners and westernised members of the expedition. Specifically, they have an annual rite of rebirth whereby each member of the tribe is reborn to assume a new identity, which they then keep for the next year before the cycle begins again.

The image and the reality - Belle and Cliver make love over his footage of their and others' lovemaking

Indeed, it takes rather a long time for the expedition to get underway, with the first half of the film being more concerned with detailing the erotic exploits of Laure and company and featuring various intellectual digressions that, if not necessarily registering as genuinely profound, indicate an somewhat uncommon level of ambition.

There is also some low humour, as when Laure's assisting the professor with his slideshow of the Mara is short-circuited by the attentions of some of her friends hidden beneath the podium much like Police Academy.

The limit point within the film's discourse of sexual freedom is also apparent. It is, unsurprisingly, male homosexuality While Nicholas indicates that he is not jealous when Laure goes off with another man, on the grounds that he feels whatever she feels and that whatever makes her happy makes him happy, there is never any suggestion that he and the Professor are going to engage with one another sexually in the same ways as Laure, Myrte and the other women do.

The film also features a transgendered character who comments on having chosen her gender. Crucially, however, she is also presented as having a female rather than a male lover in what is either a more challenging instance of queering gender identity or a means of recuperating the character back into the fold, whereby every man wants a woman and every woman a man and / or a woman.

Actually co-directed by Arsan along with Ovidio Assonitis, the film is well enough put together, with good use of locations; a pleasing Nico Fidenco meets Pierre Bachelet score courtesy of Franco Micalizzi, and some nice self-referential touches.

A potential double-bill candidate for screening with Marguerite Duras's India Song?

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