Grip Like A Vice – Bitto Albertini’s ‘Black Emanuelle’ (1975)

16 Nov

God bless Laura Gemser. If there’s one person that’s going to save the Emmanuelle/Emanuelle franchise for me, it’s her. Where Sylvia Kristel wasn’t naturally beautiful, Gemser is a bona-fide beauty and one that exudes sexuality by the buckets. Bitto Albertini’s Black Emanuelle aka Emanuelle Nera (note how the original franchise has two ‘m’s and the spin-off franchise has one) is where it all began, introducing Gemser for the first time as the hedonistic, globe-trotting investigative journalist Emanuelle.

The film opens with a nice allude to the original film, with Emanuelle on a plane observing a couple getting frisky in the aisle next to her. On her way to Africa for a photographic assignment, she meets hosts, husband and wife Ann and Gianni, and through various encounters with the two she begins to question their relationship and her own sexuality. After watching Ann having sex with an African gas attendant, Emanuelle begins to pursue Gianni who initially rejects  and belittles her advances. It doesn’t take long for him to cave in and eventually the two begin an affair. At the same time, his wife becomes closer to Emanuelle and the two also begin a relationship. When hearing Gianni talk down about her to his friend Gloria, she decides to have sex with her and, in time, another of his friends Richard. This is certainly one little community that knows the in’s and out’s of each other…

Compared to Just Jaeckin’s original Emmanuelle picture (1974), Black Emanuelle contains some more explicit scenes that would start a trend which continued throughout the rest of the Black Emanuelle spinoff films. Where Jaeckin’s softcore predominantly alludes, Albertini included shots of an erection and had Emanuelle engaging in explicit sex scenes. These were hardcore inserts using a body double and not Gemser herself, who wasn’t even aware a body double would be used. She would never perform explicit sex acts on film throughout the entire Black Emanulle spinoff series. It’s not just there that Emmanuelle and Black Emanuelle differ. Emanuelle is very aware of her sexuality and what she wants, her journey through the film reaffirming her independence through her sexuality. Unlike Emmanuelle who needed teaching, guidance and was on a journey of sexual discovery and awakening, Emannuelle is all-knowing.

Released the year after Emmanuelle, Black Emanuelle spawned its own spinoff series. Whilst Gemser didn’t return for the immediate sequel, she returned for the series of sequels directed by Joe D’Amato that included Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976), Emanuelle in America (1977) and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977). Black Emanuelle would make the Indonesian born model an icon of 1970s erotica and it’s very easy to see why. She’s incredibly beautiful, photographs well and has a natural air to her acting that makes her work in the Emanuelle series more engaging and believable. And where Emmanuelle often felt incredibly fluffy and, at times, weighed down by its attempts at veiling itself with art based arguments and philosophical ideas, Black Emanuelle is a breath of fresh air, a sex film that sometimes feels very sexy. Pretty much all you could hope for from a film like this.

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