Emmanuelle Arsan supposedly lived a very full life. The young wife of a sexually enlightened older aristocrat, Arsan purportedly had a sensual awakening in the arms of other men (and occasionally women) which led her to document said experiences in her eponymously titled "memoirs". The book was immediately banned, and therefore became a huge success (as most banned books do), inspiring everything from comics by erotic artist Guido Crepax to further adventures (albeit written by other authors) and ultimately the films that make up this set from Anchor Bay.
Just Jaeckin's Emmanuelle was more than just the soft-core porn film we remember it as; it kick started a seemingly endless parade of sequels, imitators, and single-handedly redefined the adult film industry which, up until that time, churned out either films of the down and dirty "grindhouse" variety one would spy in Time's Square arcade, or the slighly more sensual but equally dismal arthouse films. Jaeckin introduced glamour, adventure, and, dare I say, class into the genre. While Emmanuelle's progenitors offered us sex as a hasty backroom romps populated by average looking folk, Emmanuelle combined the glitz of the classic romance film with the cheeky and cheeky sexuality of a burlesque show all wrapped in a tastefully done R-rated package that even Grandma could enjoy.
Jaeckin's Emmanuelle also introduced the world to the definitive Emmanuelle, Sylvia Kristel, who would go on to frolic in the dreams of every young boy with cable television for decades to come. The story is simple; Emmanuelle is a young model living in Thailand with her husband, Jean; who encourages the naive' Emmanuelle to explore her sexuality. There's not much else to it, save for occasional humour and loads of bawdy innuendo. However, the film does display a great amount of technical proficiency and is beautifully photographed by cinematographer, Richard Suzuki. The atmosphere is there, there's loads of pointless nudity (Emmanuelle seems to do pretty much everything naked) and it's actually quite erotic stuff. Coupled with it's place in cinema history, this makes Emmanuelle a classic of sorts, even though, by today's standards, it's...errr...effectiveness..is greatly diminished.
Emmanuelle 2 sees Kristel return as the young model, who is now very sexually aware, and simply chomping at the bit to bed anything that crosses her path. Francis Giacobetti and Francis Leroi assume the directorial duties this time out, eschewing Jaeckin's conventional romantic sensibilities in favour of a somewhat bohemian motif. While things are just as glamorous, for the most part, they're presented with a more "swingin'" seventies vibe. The location switches over to Hong Kong, wite Emmanuelle returning from an assignment to meet her husband. As with any sequel, there's pretty much more of everything here. More sex, more partners, more clumsy attempts at humour, and more ridiculous dialogue created simply to tie one sex scene to another. I found Emmanuelle 2 to be a bit of a joyless, by-the-numbers when compared to Jaeckin's superior original. While there's a lot more bump n' grind, it just seems sterile and cold whereupon Jaeckin's film lent an air of romance to every encounter, no matter how meaningless.
François Leterrier's Good-Bye, Emmanuelle (available only as part of this three disc boxed set) entered the fray just as the internation Emmanuelle phenomenon was in full gear, churning out their own versions (and ethnical persuasions) of Emmanuelle. Kristel returns in this film as the sexual dynamo, who has an affair with a filmmaker that blossoms into romance; something that Emanuelle's hubby isn't too happy about. The couple's carefree sexual relationship takes a harsh turn and injects some unwelcome drama into the otherwise light as a feather series. Kristel's a decent enough adult-film actress, but Leterrier's attempts to goad our sympathies for the character are lost in her deadpan translation. Also, by this point, the Emmanuelle clones were offering up more than tease and sleaze, succumbing to the demand for actual hardcore sex by the European and American audiences. Leterrier's somewhat somber and sexually sterile film fails to capture the classy fun of Jaeckin, or the hip recklessness of Giacobetti and Leroi's sequel, but does provide closure for the Emmanuelle of this series (although Kristel would later revisit the role in the late 80's portraying the mother of the "new" Emmanuelle).
Anchor Bay presents this collection of the original Emmanuelle trilogy in a very nicely packaged 3-disc boxed set, with a die-cut and embossed slipcase, three panel gatefold, and booklet. It's an impressive looking set with equally impressive features for what is essentially 5 and half hours of silly softcore porno. Theatrical Trailers, International Trailers, Behind-The-Scenes Features, Photo Gallery, and Cast/Crew Information accompany each film, with each disc presenting 10 minutes of a 20 minute retrospective of the series that features all new interviews with cast, crew and creators of each film (however, most of the 20 minutes is justifiably focused on Jaeckin's film).
All in all, The Emmanuelle Collection is a very nice package for fans of erotic cinema. While the first film is the only one that stands out as any sort of relevent work, the packaging, features, and relatively low price make it worth a look. Consider the other films a small bonus.