PERHAPS THE PROBLEMS with Joys of a Woman are endemic to soft-core pornography. Anything that isn't explicitly erotic seems superficial and inane, and even those scenes that are somewhat more risque than those available on prime-time television lose their novelty by the end of the first half-hour. Where Emmanuelle was ridiculous in its attempts to sandwich social analysis in between Erotica, Emmanuelle II abandons the pretense entirely, and is notable for nothing except its pretty photography and none-too-kinky sex.
But perhaps because the social message has been eliminated, Emmanuelle II is rather more upsetting than its predecessor. The human relations portrayed in the film are, if anything, more degrading and more empty than those of the first version. Emmanuelle, played (more or less) by toothy, leggy Sylvia Kristel, and her husband, played by Umberto Orissini, have agreed they are free to do whatever they wish, so long as they don't fall in love with anyone else. Where the dynamic tension in Emmanuelle I was provided by the breakdown of Emmanuelle's inhibitions, the only tension in this film comes from outsiders who aren't quite sure how they feel about the whole scheme. But everyone gives in eventually, and the plot ends up with all the complexity of a 'See Spot Run' book--only this time it's 'See Emmanuelle Fuck.' Even if the cast can act (a dubious assertion), it's impossible to know for sure, since the film makes no demands of such talent. It may be a nice way to live, but it doesn't seem very realistic when it appears on screen.
Not that there's anything wrong with a little idoriented activity. Harpo Marx, the id of the '30s, manages to be perfectly interesting, as well as completely human. But Emmanuelle, whose only purpose in life seems to be to run around chasing new and pleasurable experiences while her husband is at work or playing polo, misses no chance to degrade herself. If ever a woman asked to be exploited, it's she; her willingness to abandon inhibition takes her finally to a Hong Kong brothel, where she sells herself to three sailors and brings the profits home proudly to Jean. And the director seems to think this is all fine: there are no shots of male genitalia in the film, despite countless views of female sexuality.
Like Just Jaeckin, who directed the first Emmanuelle, Francois Giacobetti chose to set his film in the exotic Orient, where scenes of ethnic oddities serve as the background to this very weak plot. But where Jaeckin tried to use Bangkok to show the decadence of the French diplomatic corps, Giacobetti's Hong Kong is merely an angle through which to provide new combinations of multiracial sex. Only the photography is beautiful, with occasional panoramic views of the harbor filled with sampans relieving the tedium of those human characters.
The director's absurd vision of the Orient culminates in two scenes, one in a Chinese acupuncture shop and another in Bali. In the first, an inscrutable Chinese man in a grey robe places two needles in Emmanuelle's temples, and the audience--along with Emmanuelle's timid male companion--watches her drift off into sexual fantasies. But it's hard to see why she needs anything to set her off, given her behavior in the rest of the film; all the acupuncture does is serve as an excuse for what, predictably, happens next. The scene in Bali, while slightly less predictable, is little more believable. An exotic ritual with fifty chanting native men in loin clothes around a sacred lamp, it is reminiscent only of a Kellogg's Puffa Puffa Rice commercial.
Because Joys of a Woman is soft-core porn, slated for more general consumption than, say, The Devil and Miss Jones, there are no scenes of sexual acts that could shock any but the most prudish. The cinematography, like the bodies, is beautiful; the exotic backgrounds are topped off by the soft, sentimental music that swells up to a climax each time the actors reach orgasm. This is soft-core pornography, after all, and while hard-core isn't much more appealing, at least it doesn't try to ignore the warts. This, perhaps, is the ultimate in mass culture: sexual fantasy, never too shocking, the game the whole family can play.