LAURE (1976)
Director: Emmanuelle Arsan/Ovidio Assonitis

Around the same time Laura Gemser was becoming the screen’s most memorable incarnation of the unofficial “Emanuelle” craze, the author of the original EMMANUELLE novel, Emmanuelle Arsan (who began her career as an actress with a meaty supporting role in THE SAND PEBBLES!), was given her chance to create an erotic film of her own. Just how much of the direction she did is questionable, but she also wrote and co-starred in LAURE, which for all its Eurocult star power in the form of real-life couple Annie Belle and Al Cliver, is still a very poor and unmemorable outing.

Meet Laure, an exotic-looking girl running rampant through Manila. The daughter of a famous professor, Laure meets her sexual match in Nicolas, a handsome bearded documentary filmmaker who she bumps into when they have to share a seat on a crowded bus. After receiving oral sex during a classroom slideshow, Laure finds herself becoming attached to Nicolas, especially as the two frolic nude in a grotto swimming pool with a cascading waterfall. The pair gives a Filipino man a lift in their car, but he doesn’t reach his destination before Laure dry humps him in the passenger seat. But the fun doesn’t stop there, as Laure screws a Filipino peasant in his home while other men drag the house to set it afloat on a raft. Oh Laure, you silly girl! Our free-loving couple finally settles down and ties the knot, but they maintain an open relationship, allowing Laure to jump a sexy mustachioed professor while Nicolas showers with the professor’s gal pal Myrte (played by Emmanuelle Arsan herself). Finally SOMETHING happens, as the quartet journey into the jungle to research tribal life…and they cross bridges, float in canoes, hack at trees, talk about sexual philosophy, fuck by a fire, you get the picture. The action picks up when they encounter a lost tribe of people living in the mountains who paint Laure silver and gang bang her. The End.

From its alluring ad campaign and DVD cover and with the pedigree of cutie Annie Belle, LAURE would look to be a surefire sexploitation hit on the surface. However, where Emmanuelle Arsan’s book may have translated well to film through Just Jaeckin’s classic film, she obviously has no place wearing the screenwriter or director hats. LAURE’s eroticism is sparing and forgettable. Sure, Annie Belle contributes lots of nudity (as does her real-life boyfriend, Al Cliver!), but without the subtle, sexy touch of a Jaeckin or a D’Amato, or anyone else well-versed in creating scorching sensuality on-screen, it simply doesn’t make an impression. At least the film is beautifully shot, with some stunning locations, but the only wonderful scene in the whole film is the aforementioned grotto swimming pool love scene. LAURE is more talk-filled than anything else, with maybe the dippiest dialogue you’ll ever hear in an erotic film (“I still see love everywhere, but it’s you who shows it to me because you love everything.”; “Can you see me? Are you sure you can see me with the naked eye?” – “I can see you better when you’re naked.”) Gimme a break!! Perhaps it wouldn’t be so painful if these actors could actually emote; their bland performances aren’t helped by unenthusiastic dubbing. A real shock appears in the form of ‘Dolly’, a flighty socialite dubbed by a woman, but played by Pierre Haudebourg, an obvious drag queen with a five o’clock shadow and a scarf hiding his Adam’s apple!! The film’s one success is the musical score, a pop-oriented listening pleasure courtesy of Franco Micalizzi. Otherwise, LAURE is a disappointing misfire worth seeing only for the most ardent Annie Belle fan.

Unsung starlet Annie Belle had previously worked in French erotic films under her real name, Annie Brilland, and made a great impression in Jean Rollin’s LIPS OF BLOOD a year before LAURE. She was geared for international superstardom by this film and a Harry Alan Towers star vehicle, BLUE BELLE, neither of which elevated her star status to anything spectacular. After a select few more sex films, her career received a bit of a boost with starring roles in HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK and the accurately titled ABSURD. But it was downhill from there, as she became burdened by her alcoholism, becoming bloated and unhealthy-looking. By the time she appeared in her last film, the terrible Italian TV horror ESCAPE FROM DEATH, she had aged 30 years in half that time. On the scale of Italian erotic superstars, Annie is certainly a lower-tiered starlet, but she definitely deserves the cult following she still has today.

The 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer of LAURE looks great, with balanced colors and sharp blacks. The image is clean and crisp throughout, with absolutely no signs of damage, and the green jungles, the sparkling water, and Annie Belle’s platinum blonde hairdo look gorgeous. The mono audio track is a mixed bag, with some hissing present and lowered volume during a few dialogue scenes. It’s generally acceptable.

For such a lousy film, LAURE has some interesting extras on the disc. Producer Ovidio Assonitis sits down for a 15-minute interview to discuss how LAURE came about, the influence of the EMMANUELLE films on the production, working with the cast, and shooting the film in the Philippines. The most fascinating anecdotes relate how Arsan wrote neither EMMANUELLE nor LAURE, but it was her husband, Louis Jacques who was responsible for both works and who directed LAURE, and that the original star of the film was Linda Lovelace, who was fired for being on drugs and for refusing to do nudity!! Assonitis claims she still appears in a few scenes in the film, but you must have to be very eagle-eyed to find her! A featurette produced by Nocturno DVD utilizes a new interview with star Al Cliver and an almost 10-year-old audio interview with Annie Belle (conducted by Manlio Gomarasca for his “99 Donne” book in 1998). Both performers discuss how they entered acting, how the former couple met each other on the set of BLUE BELLE, working on LAURE in the Philippines, go into detail about their relationship, and confirm Assonitis’ tales of Louis Jacques directing the film and Linda Lovelace being fired. It’s great to hear from Annie Belle after she disappeared, but is quite sad to hear her discuss her alcoholism and still readily admit she is an addict. (Casey Scott)