Friday 19 October 2012

Sylvia Kristel RIP

There can be few film actors so closely associated with one role as was Sylvia Kristel, who has died of cancer aged 60. The title role of the sexually adventurous housewife in Emmanuelle (1974) became a reference for every part she played subsequently. This was not surprising, as the Dutch star did play a character called Emmanuelle, with few variations, many times over.

In the original film, Kristel portrayed the bored wife of a French embassy official in Bangkok, urged by her libertine husband to explore all the possibilities of sex. Thereupon, she finds herself in bed with, among others, a lesbian archaeologist and an elderly roué. Directed with some grace by Just Jaeckin, this glossy soft-porn package, dressed up as art-house erotica, was a huge international hit, becoming the first X-rated film to be released in the US. Lushly photographed and with a certain level of character development, its appeal went beyond the raincoat brigade. The success was also put down to Kristel's underestimated performance.

According to the critic Roger Ebert: "She projects a certain vulnerability that makes several of the scenes work. The performers in most skin-flicks seem so impervious to ordinary mortal failings, so blasé in the face of the most outrageous sexual invention, that finally they just become cartoon characters. Kristel actually seems to be present in the film, and as absorbed in its revelations as we are." Her performances in several other films, with directors including Walerian Borowczyk, Claude Chabrol, Roger Vadim and Alain Robbe-Grillet, proved that she was worthy of better than most of the quickie tosh in which she appeared.

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