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Just Jaeckin
France, 1974

Emmanuelle, the quintessential French soft-core porn film, is tantalizingly easy to watch. A number of visual pleasures abound on the screen at any given moment—hazy sunlight, the kind that gives everyone a pleasant glow; diaphanous fabrics, through which nipples are consistently visible; vibrant bodies of water; and airy, peaceful homes (which no doubt cost a fortune) among them. The film is alluring, as it posits a diegetic world based pretty much entirely on orgasms, but with its uncomfortable insistence on imperialism and aggressive male-female sexual dynamics, it raises a number of questions in the modern feminist viewer: whose fantasy is this, exactly? Emmanuelle may possess agency in certain moments, but does her entire world of laissez-faire encounters exist solely within the fantasies of a Nixon-era playboy? Soft-core is meant to function as escapism, and yet I can’t think about Emmanuelle without asking questions, without trying to contextualize its sexual dynamics. I watched the film alone: I was bored, it was late, and I’m a sucker for 1970s soft focus. Thinking about it now, a few specific moments gauzily pass through my memory: Emmanuelle at the beginning and end of the film, lounging in her boudoir, first looking like an ingénue and then more made up and sultry in the end; Emmanuelle having a lesbian encounter on a squash court, the stark white of the setting and her outfit imparting an almost sci-fi aura; Emmanuelle engaging in naughty girl talk by the pool. It’s all a bit cheesy, and there are enough moral issues to write a dissertation on, but that’s why this film, so easy to write off as trash, is worth talking about as a fascinating embodiment of a certain type of “Me Decade” sexuality.