Sylvia Kristel: Emmanuelle actress has died at age 60
Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel, best remembered for the epoch-making erotic hit Emmanuelle, died in her sleep on Wednesday, Oct. 17, ’12, in Amsterdam. Kristel, who had been battling cancer for several years, was 60.
Back in 1974, Emmanuelle made Sylvia Kristel (born Sept. 28, 1952, in Utrecht) a household name worldwide. Directed by former fashion photographer Just Jaeckin from a screenplay credited to Jean-Louis Richard (who collaborated with François Truffaut on Fahrenheit 451 and Day for Night), Emmanuelle was based on a 1959 novel (eventually) credited to “Emmanuelle Arsan” a.k.a. the Thai-born Marayat Bibidh. While still in her mid-teens, Bibidh was married to a French diplomat at UNESCO, Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane. In later years, it was revealed that Rollet-Andriane himself had penned the book.
In Jaeckin’s French-made movie, veteran Alain Cuny, one of the stars of Marcel Carné’s 1942 classic The Devil’s Envoys / Les visiteurs du soir, played the 20-something Emmanuelle’s 60-something husband, who wants his wife to be “sexually liberated,” especially, it seems, with other women. Emmanuelle, for her part, is eager to please her husband and mentor. (The lyrics from Pierre Bachelet’s theme-song sensation explain, “Melody of love sings Emmanuelle’s heart … You’ve dreamed of romantic love, [but] you’ve found sensual love,” and so on.)
Needless to say, at the time of its release Emmanuelle was banned numerous countries, among them Spain and Brazil, in those days in the grip of right-wing military dictatorships. But not in the United States, where the film – tame compared to the sexually explicit blockbuster Deep Throat – was actually released by a major studio, Columbia Pictures, with the tagline “X [the NC-17 of the early ’70s] was never like this.” Nor in France, where Emmanuelle became the biggest box office sensation of the year. (Finally released in Brazil in 1977, Emmanuelle became a huge box office hit. Kristel visited the country to promote her film, was a guest at the Brazilian Congress, and became a front-page news event.)
Sylvia Kristel: Post-Emmanuelle film career, Hollywood disaster
Curiously, the international success of Emmanuelle didn’t translate into major movie stardom for Sylvia Kristel. There were a couple of less successful Emmanuelle sequels in the ’70s, in addition to a handful of now mostly forgotten efforts such as Francis Girod’s Rene the Cane / René la canne (1977), with Gérard Depardieu and Michel Piccoli; veteran Luigi Zampa’s Tigers in Lipstick / Letti selvaggi (1978), an omnibus comedy featuring Kristel, Ursula Andress, Laura Antonelli, and Monica Vitti; and Ken Annakin’s flop The Fifth Musketeer (1979), an all-star, English-language, Austrian / West German co-production featuring an eclectic cast ranging from Kristel as Maria Theresa to Olivia de Havilland as the Queen Mother and Cornel Wilde as D’Artagnan.
[Addendum: Film historian Daniel Camargo singles out two worthwhile Sylvia Kristel movies of the ’70s: Walerian Borocwyck’s La Marge (1976), co-starring Joe Dallesandro, and Claude Chabrol’s Alice ou la dernière fugue / Alice or the Last Escapade (1977), co-starring Charles Vanel and Jean Carmet.]
Sylvia Kristel’s Hollywood foray in the late ’70s and early ’80s was mostly unrewarding as well. “I wish I could have skipped that part of my life,” she later told the Amsterdam daily De Volkskrant. Drugs and alcohol took their toll while she was living with actor Ian McShane, and so did movies such as The Concorde… Airport ’79 (1979), The Nude Bomb (1980), Private School (1983), and Mata Hari (1985).
Sylvia Kristel Emmanuelle photo: Parafrance Films.
Sylvia Kristel: Private Lessons and Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Sylvia Kristel’s two notable efforts during that period were Alan Myerson’s box office hit Private Lessons (1981), in which she, as a foreign housemaid, becomes the erotic tutor of a (horny) all-American 15-year-old (Eric Brown), and the Just Jaeckin-directed, European co-production Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1982), co-starring Excalibur‘s Nicholas Clay. Critics, however, weren’t exactly thrilled with either movie, particularly Jaeckin’s good-looking but slow-moving, bare-bones (and -bodies) adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s novel. (Image: Sylvia Kristel Private Lessons, with Eric Brown.)
From the mid-’80s on, Kristel’s movie appearances became more sporadic. Her later film credits consisted of minor fare, usually Dutch-made films geared to the local market, such as An Amsterdam Tale (1999), Forgive Me (2001), and The Friendship (2001), in addition to Emmanuelle VI (1993), made at a time when Kristel was in dire financial straits following the box office flop In the Shadow of the Sandcastle (1990), directed by her then husband Philippe Blot and on which she had invested her own money. According to the IMDb, Sylvia Kristel’s last movie was Ognjen Svilicic’s French / Croatian drama Two Sunny Days (2010).
Sylvia Kristel: Later years
In 2006, Kristel received a special jury prize at the Tribeca Film Festival for her animated short Topor and Me. In the short, Kristel provided the voice for her character – herself, discussing the Parisian art scene at the time Emmanuelle was made.
“We started together,” Just Jaeckin recalled for The Associated Press. “… Emmanuelle brought us big problems. We were a bit marked. It was a highly contested film then and now it is a cult film.”
Sylvia Kristel, who is survived by her partner Peter Brul, was married twice. She later accused husband no. 2, Philippe Blot (1986-1991), of ruining her financially. She also had a son with Belgian author Hugo Claus (1929-2008), Arthur Kristel, who was featured in a couple of 1999 movies (Nachtvlinder, 13).
Her autobiography, Nue / Nude (English-language version: Undressing Emmanuelle), was published in France in 2006. The following year, the retitled Sylvia Kristel: Nu became a made-for-television documentary directed by Michiel van Erp.
When asked about her views on Emmanuelle in The Independent‘s sensationally titled 2007 article “Interview: Sylvia Kristel, the world’s most famous porn star,” Kristel declared:
“I thought it was charming. Very innocent, like you say. I was struck by how young I looked at the time but I thought I was so adult, that I knew it all and I was going to conquer the world. Amazing. Where did this come from? … [My mother] saw the film when it came on television. She said: ‘If they are showing it on television it can’t be that bad.’ And then she saw it and said: ‘Is that all?’ I said: ‘Mother, have you been imagining the worst for 20 years?’"
Eric Brown, Sylvia Kristel Private Lessons photo: Jensen Farley Films.