Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Black Emmanuelle, White Emmanuelle (1976)

Character Names: Emmanuelle/Laura & Laure/Pina
Actresses: Laura Gemser & Annie Belle
Actual Movie Title: Velluto Nero
Known Aliases: Black Emmanuelle, White Emmanuelle; Emanuelle in Egypt; Naked Paradise; Smooth Velvet, Raw Silk
Country of Origin: Italy
Occupation: Model/None Known
Locales: Egypt
Release Date: August 6, 1976 (Italy)
Director: Brunello Rondi
DVD: Black Emanuelle's Box, Vol. 2 (1976-1978)
Stats: Pseudo-Black Emanuelle

It sounds like an inter-company crossover event, teaming the original French Emmanuelle with the infamous Italian knock-off Black Emanuelle. If you enter the movie from that perspective, you're bound to be disappointed. Yes, Annie Belle was in a film based on Emmanuelle Arsan's work, and it's even been dubbed "Forever Emmanuelle" on some prints, but the character and film are actually named "Laure." Yes, in Laura Gemser's top-billing is the notation that she's "Emanuelle Nera," her character is named Emanuelle and Gabriele Tinti is even along for the ride. She's still only in about half the movie, has few lines, and plays a world-famous model far too passive to be Black Emanuelle. Depending on the print, Gemser is also named "Laura," and Annie Belle is alternately Laure or "Pina." There's no jet-setting, few psychotropic elements, no cheesy theme song, no Sylvia Kristel, no Joe D'Amato and really, no Emmanuelle.

The truth is, this is an unfocused 1976 melodrama called "Velluto Nero" ("Black Velvet.") In it, Susan Scott/Nieves Navarro plays Crystal, a matriarchal figure who makes her home in an Egyptian estate. Bitter after numerous failed marriages, Crystal makes do with her mute servant Ali and a romance with the ridiculous mystic Antonio/Horatio (Al Cliver.) Her live-in daughter Magda (Ziggy Zanger) is a frustrated nymphomaniac unable to reach orgasm. The pair await the arrival of Crystal's daughter from another marriage, Laure (Annie Belle,) visiting on holiday. There's a bit of gratuitous nudity with Crystal, and then Magda is off to pick up vacationing friends Emanuelle and her abusive photographer boyfriend Carlo (Tinti.) In the middle of the desert, Carlo stops their jeep and forces Emanuelle to pose nude with the rotting corpse of a dog. Emanuelle is used to this treatment, speaking little and suffering from a mix of guilt and revulsion at her status. Carlo jerks Emanuelle about, pressuring her into uncomfortable positions, barking orders and insults while snapping rolls of film.

Crystal goes off in search of Antonio, who's preaching nonsense to his followers, and this leads to a tasteless simulated facial. Magda torments Ali, her default partner in attempts at sexual satisfaction. Everyone meets with Hal, a supposed religious figure, "pederast," and failed actor. In his den, Crystal, Antonio and Magda have a ménage à trois while Emanuelle looks on in horror. Carlo and Hal just plain look on.

A half hour in, Laura Gemser hasn't participated in a sex scene, Annie Belle has just arrived, and this is clearly not an Emmanuelle picture. Laure is led through introductions of the motley crew by Magda before spending some quality time with mother, with the requisite incidental nudity (but no incest this time.)

Laure, Emanuelle and Carlo stumble upon a massacre in the desert, so of course Carlo forces his model amongst the bloated, fly covered corpses. Emanuelle feels faint amongst the murdered children and runs away. Laure curses at Carlo as he chases Emanuelle down and eventually forces himself on her. After, Carlo presses Emanuelle to stand on a dung heap, which proves the last straw, as Laure and Emanuelle drive off without him. Laure and Emanuelle make their way to an estate orgy, where they eventually make love (after taking in some voyeurism.) Gemser, clearly embarrassed and stiff during most of the lesbian sex scenes over the course of her career, looks like she might be enjoying herself for a change. It's also the only decent erotic turn in the entire picture. Carlo makes his way back riding a donkey.

Laure, Carlo and Magda tour an archival site. The former pair get into a screaming match, while the Magda allows herself to be molested by roaming nomads. Laure becomes the devastating truth teller: belittling Carlo, pointing out Magda's promiscuity is pointless if she finds no pleasure, and rubbing Hal's nose in his delusions of grandeur.

Back at Hal's palace, Antonio presides over some hoodoo perpetuated against the cast. Crystal fears death and loneliness. Hal wants to continue running away, as he did from Hollywood, to where no one knows he's just a lousy actor. Carlo destroys his camera. Magda states, "I'm still young, but I already stink of dead bodies." Emanuelle is another matter entirely. She envisions a crowd of hands, which she guides to touch her tenderly. Instead, she is suddenly nude and fearful. She bows compliantly, speaks in tongues, then asks the "father of happiness" to protect her. Laure begins to protest, but Antonio refuses to release Emanuelle, who slaughters a young goat and drinks its blood. Emanuelle begins screaming, writhing on the floor in agony and tearing at her dress. She tries to burn her face with a lit torch, but Carlo rips it from her grasp. Carlo "wakes" Emanuelle, who promptly leaves him for good. Antonio moves on to Laure, over whom he finds he has no power, and who turns on the radio for an impromptu victory dance.

At Abu Simbel, twin temples carved out of a mountainside, Laure dresses down and hooks up with Antonio. Crystal knows she'll lose Antonio to Laure, and can't stand it. Laure makes Antonio tell Crystal he's leaving and never loved her. Crystal climbs the monument and threatens to jump. Laure cruelly calls her bluff, humiliating her mother completely, until she collapses in sobs. Her work done, Laure dumps Antonio, and wanders off alone into the desert. Whether metaphysically, metaphorically, or otherwise, Laure is met by Emanuelle. The couple walk off into the horizon while stripping naked.

To call "Velluto Nero" sexploitation gives it too much credit. It's certainly Eurotrash, but has artistic pretensions it cannot reach, and little interest in arousal. However, it's a serviceable melodrama and features some majestic sights from Egypt.

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