Goodbye Emmanuelle (1977)

Goodbye Emmanuelle (later retitled Emmanuelle 3) was the third of the official Emmanuelle movies. It was also intended by Sylvia Kristel to be her last appearance in the role (although that proved to be not quite the case).

Goodbye Emmanuelle came out in 1977, two years after Emmanuelle 2, and it marks a significant departure for the series. The first thing that is noticeable is that the simulated sex scenes are much briefer, and much tamer, than those in the previous two films. They’re very tame indeed compared to those in the very steamy Emmanuelle 2.

Even more startling is a dramatic change in tone. Goodbye Emmanuelle tries to be a serious look at the actual consequences of the sexual revolution that the first two movies celebrated with such enthusiasm. Whether it succeeds or not is a matter of opinion but director François Leterrier certainly seemed to have his own ideas on the direction in which the series should go.

Emmanuelle (Sylvia Kristel) and her architect husband Jean (Umberto Orsini) are now living in the Seychelles. There’s not much to do there other than have sex but luckily that’s all that Emmanuelle and Jean are interested in doing.

They still have their open marriage and of course they’re blissfully happy because how could you not be happy if you’ve overcome all those silly antiquated notions like jealousy and possessiveness? Emmanuelle and Jean are a liberated couple and being liberated is the key to happiness. And yet there are signs that perhaps Emmanuelle is not quite as happy as she should be. She is starting to suspect that men treat her like she’s a whore. She’s even starting to suspect that they may have some justification for doing so. She’s finding that maybe jealousy isn’t so easy to leave behind. And she’s starting to wonder if a husband who enjoys watching his wife have sex with other men (and women) might not be much of a husband. He might not even be much of a man. Could it be that she has discovered that sexual freedom comes at a price? And that maybe the price is too high?

Some of Emmanuelle’s friends are also discovering that sexual freedom has its downside. One even suggests to our heroine that the problem with sexual liberation is that one day you get old.

This all comes to a head when she meets handsome sensitive film-maker Grégory (Jean-Pierre Bouvier). She’s attracted to him so naturally the first thing she does when they meet is to perform oral sex on him. Curiously enough this doesn’t seem to make him like her, or respect her. Emmanuelle is very confused by this.

In fact everything about Grégory confuses and disturbs Emmanuelle. He has quaint old-fashioned ideas about love and sex. He even believes it’s only possible to love one person at a time! He thinks jealousy is normal and natural. He thinks there is more to love than just having sex. He doesn’t believe in orgies or threesomes. This guy is seriously weird. The worst thing is, she can’t stop thinking about him. She wants him desperately. She doesn’t just want to have sex with him, she wants to be with him. You know, walking hand-in-hand along the beach and all that outdated romance stuff.

Emmanuelle is, for the first time in her life, falling in love. She’s also learning that other people actually have feelings (something of which she was entirely unaware).

Of course this means that Sylvia Kristel has to do a bit more serious acting than in the previous Emmanuelle films, and she does give a more complex performance that suggests that Emmanuelle might have some actual depth to her character.

The fact that this movie has some serious ambitions isn’t the problem. There’s no reason why you can’t make a serious movie about sex. The problem is that for the story to work, really work effectively, there needs to be a much more intense erotic charge in the developing relationship between Emmanuelle and Grégory. We need to be convinced that for Emmanuelle sex with someone she cares about really is a whole lot better than the empty meaningless sex she’s had before. The sex with Grégory needs to mean something, but that erotic charge just isn’t there and the emotional intensity isn’t really there either. It’s not that the sex scenes need to be more explicit - they just need to be more intense and more passionate.

As director François Leterrier knows how to use the exotic location and how to give the movie the lush look that was the Emmanuelle trademark. Unfortunately he shows no flair for the erotic, which is a bit of a problem when you’re making an erotic movie. He deserves credit for trying to explore the emotional ramifications of Emmanuelle’s lifestyle but overall the movie is just a bit on the dull side. When you have Sylvia Kristel as your star and she spends a good deal of her screen time naked and your movie is still dull you’ve definitely done something wrong.

The Region 4 DVD offers a pretty good transfer, with negligible extras.

Goodbye Emmanuelle is an interesting experiment that had real potential. As an erotic movie it is however decidedly limp. Possibly worth seeing if you’re a Sylvia Kristel completist but it’s difficult to recommend this one wholeheartedly.

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