What an odd time for a new Emanuelle. The sexual libertine seems out of place in today's more, shall we say, cautious social atmosphere.
Just Jacekin's film Emanuelle reached America in 1974. It rode the wave of foreign imports and the wide release of couples-friendly porn that arrived on the heels of the sexual revolution. Claiming to be based on the "real" exploits of the "real" Emanuelle Arsan, the author of the books on which they are based, the first films were high class productions that featured French model/actress Sylvia Kristel. While the poster proclaimed, "X was never like this," the erotic hijinks were yawn-inducing by today's standards. Still, they were decidedly French and introduced an idea of living for today by entwining with everything in sight, male or female, rich or poor, royalty or serf. Subsequent films of dubious quality took the character from there, notably with Indonesian/Dutch Laura Gemser (known as "Black Emanuelle") -- and even author Ms. Arsan herself in the titular role.
Emanuelle's Revenge (the actual title is Emanuelle Do Ut Des, which translates from the Italian to "quid pro quo," a little too explicit) features our heroine as an accomplished bisexual psychologist with a string of bestsellers. As played by Beatrice Schiaffino, she is Italian/French (that makes a difference) and no less alluring for her legitimacy. But whereas the old Emanuelle had a hit-and-run attitude toward sex, this model has an agenda.
The film's protagonist is actually a high-powered, man-bunned businessman and lothario Leo Germani (played by Gianni Rosato), who is first seen pursuing a top fashion model named Francesca (Ilaria Loriga). Francesca is a fresh-faced college student by day, a Eurotrash temptress by night. She resists Leo's advances but Leo, who is rich, stalks and pesters her until she surrenders to his advances. At their moment of mutual ecstasy, a title card suddenly appears: "one year later." And we pick up Leo's story from that point, and Francesca is nowhere to be seen. Leo soon meets Emanuelle and pursues her in the same way.
Emanuelle's Revenge is a bit of a bait-and-switch. It's a parable, not an erotic thriller. Yes, we have beautiful affluent people, casual nudity, and light BDSM -- even Emanuelle's trademark wicker chair, on which she perches seductively. But as I say, we also have an agenda. This isn't to say the agenda isn't righteous, but any agenda limits the scope.
Much is made of a woman directing this movie. Monica Carpanese is known for her acting in Italian TV and film. This is her first work as a director, in which she shares the credit with Dario Germani. Ms. Carpanese wrote the screenplay as well. The film isn't suspenseful in the traditional sense: one stays with it to see how what we've seen will link up with what we're about to see. In that way, its plot twist can be read as feminist comeuppance.
But why resurrect Emanuelle at all? Brand-recognition is the obvious reason, but true Emanuelle fans may feel gypped. This succubus ain't what she used to be. Her wicked ways are quaint, or worse, irrelevant. She's like James Bond, her male counterpart of that era: to alter or update them takes the air goes right out of them.
Emanuelle's Revenge. Directed by Monica Carpanese and Dario Germani. 2022. Released by Cinephobia. In Italian with subtitles. Available on DVD on VOD platforms. 91 minutes.