Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Emanuelle and Joanna / Il mondo porno di due sorelle (1979)

So, here we are, nearly ten years in to writing for this site, and it would look like I’m finally getting around to covering an Emmanuelle movie… Well, not quite… In fact, Emanuelle and Joanna seems to me to be an anti-Emmanuelle movie, since I believe the literary Emmanuelle is mainly about embracing and normalizing sexual taboos. Whereas the protagonist in Emanuelle and Joanna is haunted by sexual taboos and is seemingly punished for her altruism by providence, or the scriptwriter if you prefer. I felt it was much too negative to be in line with the sexually positive but still iconoclastic spirit of the writings of Emmanuelle Arsan (Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane) and to me had a little more in common with the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Emanuelle and Joanna, who I’m assuming are the two women seen on the movie poster engaging in what is surely a kind of esoteric sex ritual, aren’t even in the movie. The lead sisters, alluded to in the film's Italian title, are Emanuela (Sherry Buchanan) and Giovanna (Paola Montenero). I don’t feel duped at all though, because this is the kind of shit I go for, a pleasing dark piece of dated erotica that sends its protagonist down a rabbit-hole of perverts.

This trashy variation of Belle de Jour is spoiled forbidden fruit that I’m not ashamed of indulging in. It is cheap Italian sleaze, written and directed by Franco Rossetti, that I would also like to argue still has artistic merit, mainly in how the dreams and brothel scenes are filmed. The unlikely mix of the weird and randomly perverse with the deep and emotional make this a curiosity worth hanging on to. The best parts are, of course, Emanuela’s visits to her sister Giovanna’s brothel funhouse and also Emanuela’s dreams and the way they portray her troubled psych. 

Emanuela is in a problematic marriage with her abusive creep of a husband Roberto (Brunello Chiodetti). He’s a sociopath who thinks he can jokingly charm his way through his faults, but everyone who knows him seems to know how much of an ass he is and that he’s an unreliable husband to the sweet and charitable Emanuela. She’s unhappily subservient to his whims. Sex with her husband is non-negotiable, as he expects her to submit to him without considering what she wants. He reminds me a lot of Simon Andreu’s character from The Blood Spattered Bride (1972).


 

It’s rumored that she tolerates him because she’s a masochist. This is incorrect, as it’s revealed through her dreams that she is legitimately in despair, but there’s a ray of light in her nightmare world in the form of a vision of a boy she longed for from her college days. There's a relatable feeling here in Emanuela's dreams, a tendency to retreat to a nostalgic past when the present makes you unhappy. But sometimes the romanticized past isn’t always so great either. 

Emanuela’s mother (Catherine Zago) is concerned about Emanuela’s sister Giovanna, whom she seems to have lost all contact with. One morning she is urging Emanuela to contact her sister. This scene is supposed to be serious, but to give you an idea of the randomness of the silly sleaze on display, during this part, when Emanuela steps out of the room, briefly, Emanuela’s young butler walks up to her mother while holding a drink tray, and instead of reaching for a drink her mother reaches under the tray for the butler’s crotch and begins to grope him, as the butler starts to nervously quiver and the tray shivers and shakes. Emanuela walks back in to the room and her mother quickly lets go of the butler and grabs her drink, without Emanuela even noticing she just assaulted her butler. Emanuela actually catches him later in the movie at her mom’s dwelling, much to her dismay.


 

On her mother’s insistence, Emanuela tracks her sister down at a brothel that she happens to lord over. When she visits, Giovanna and her assistant Angela (Angela La Vorgna) literally force Emanuela on a grand tour of her brothel that is like a funhouse of random perversions and kinks. The scene with the middle-aged man-baby is really something else. He is being nursed by a dominatrix Rosella (Marina Hedman), someone Emanuela actually knows. Naïve Emanuela is taken from room to room to be perturbed by a variety of sexual proclivities she apparently was previously ignorant of. Every sexual taboo, associated with certain characters, haunts Emanuela later that night in a fabulous menacing dream sequence, where the brothel funhouse becomes more like a madhouse. It’s all too much for her until the man-of-her-dreams, her old college crush, appears front and center, emitting a virtuous light that drives back the dark vice-filled perversions, seemingly offering her salvation from her twisted life. Problem is, in reality, this person apparently died years ago.


 

When, one day, at random, Emanuela comes across someone who has the exact likeness to the boy-of-her-dreams, Paulo (?), she is instinctively generous to him, with high hopes that he’ll be a part of her life. Paulo lives in poverty and works the streets selling packets of coloring pens. Through her connections, Emanuela gets him a job, and later during the celebration, Paulo and his hippie friends end up repaying her in the cruelest way. Her shining light and savior actually turns out to be just another scoundrel, possibly even worse than her husband. She can’t seem to cut a break. The kind and caring Emanuela seems doomed to suffer tortures dealt to her by providence. She’s a little like de Sade’s Justine in this way. The only one who is welcoming to her, and not in the most helpful way, is her sister.

 

Giovanna confesses to Emanuela that she is a simple sadomasochist, claiming a need to inflict and receive pain, so much so that she felt a need to manage, direct, and organize violence; hence her position as the head mistress of one of the freakiest pleasure houses. She attributes the origin of her hypersexuality to a time when she and Emanuela were children and secretly witnessed their mother having a sexual affair with the gardener before the mother goes upstairs to satiate her appetite even further by sexually engaging with their, unknowing, father immediately afterwards. Giovanna then suggests that both sisters were conceived from different fathers. The corrupted born from the immoral affair, the other born from the sexual encounter within the confines of marriage, bringing to my mind that de Sadean contrast of vice and virtue, i.e. Juliette and Justine.

 

I also like to think there is a quick ode to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs here, when Emanuela visits her husband’s work associate, Andrea (Daniele Dublino), during the time she is trying to help Paolo find a job. Andrea, the bald and graceful piano player, with a wicked scar under his eye, has a deep attraction to Emanuela. (I honestly felt like he had a suspicious Ernst Stavro Blofeld vibe to him). When she negotiates with Andrea to help her friend Paulo find employment, Andrea, a little like Severin from ViF, responds by waxing poetically about how attracted he is to Emanuela and thinks of her as a Goddess. Emanuela is even draped in furs during this part. He then offers to help her if she’ll permit him to indulge in a voyeuristic fantasy he’s always had of spying on her through a keyhole while she is in the bathroom, to which she obliges. The erotic POV shot through a keyhole frame during this part is pleasantly tasteful.


  

Emanuele and Joanna does culminate into a kind of rape/revenge style conclusion for Emanuela’s husband, while Emanuela submits to what the title eludes to and likely what everyone watching this in the ‘70s and ‘80s was hoping for. I can’t say it, because even I have my limits when it comes to sexual taboos. The ending is more fleshed out in the Italian language version, whereas a lot of the ending was edited out from the dubbed English version, yet there are different parts cut from both versions, so it’s still best to watch both, in that something missing from one version can still be found in the other. 

Much of the movie is made so beautiful by the piano theme by Enzo Petti which is essentially the main theme to the movie. That recurring romantic melody just moves my soul and gives some of the scenes a certain grandiose feel that they probably don’t deserve. It’s so bitchin’ that I even find myself sometimes air-pianoing to it. 

 

Emanuelle and Joanna might seem a little too cheap and sleazy for one to really try and find anything meaningful in it, but despite this I thought there still ended up being many meaningful and memorable parts, which is kind of what made it a surprising delight to me. I thought Sherry Buchanan really played Emanuela with such sweetness and vulnerability that you really do care about her. She’s caring and kind-hearted and deserves so much better than the cruel existence Rossetti has fabricated for her. Paola Montenero is a nice dark counterpart to Emanuela as her vice-fueled sister Giovanna, who has this kind of cold indifference about her. Her motives are questionable since she seemed to be behind some of Emanuela’s torments and misfortunes, but Giovanna also offers Emanuela help at getting back at her husband. Giovanna’s brothel and how it was interpreted as a kind of freakshow by Emanuela was one of the biggest things that kept me coming back to this movie and is largely why I’m trying to sell it, although I’m quite aware that it probably isn’t for everyone, but if kinky weirdness and partially forgotten (that should not be forgotten) Euro-erotica are your jam, you might want to check this one out. 

© At the Mansion of Madness


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