Mikebasil's Blog Emmanuelle
Sylvia Kristel (1952-2012)
In 2001, Sylvia Kristel, a heavy smoker since the age of eleven, was diagnosed with throat cancer. It was the beginning of her final battle. She had known struggle aplenty in her life. She had fought her way through a series of disastrous personal relationships, known deep unhappiness and the ravages of cocaine and the nicotine addiction which would ultimately kill her. After three courses of chemotherapy during which time the disease spread to her lungs, Sylvia suffered a stroke in June 2012 and was rushed to hospital. The struggle was nearly over.
Sylvia was the Dutch daughter on an innkeeper, Jean-Nicholas Kristel and his wife Piet. Her early life was marked by some of the tragedy that would haunt her all her days. She was sexually abused by one of the inn’s guests when she was just 9 years old and her father ran off with another woman when she was 14 and the subsequent divorce of her parents she would later describe as the “saddest thing that ever happened to me.” There was always that air of sadness about Sylvia.
For all that there was something about the girl. She was a beauty and began modelling at the age of 17. She won the Miss Europe beauty queen title in 1973. She was not just beautiful however. Sylvia had brains as well. She spoke five languages fluently and all who knew her described her as witty and clever. She would enter the movies in 1973 and go on to appear in over fifty films and documentaries and even have a short career as a director. It was a film in 1974 however that would forever imprint her into the public consciousness and turn her into one of the most iconic images in the history of sexuality.
The movie “Emmanuelle” was based on the novel of the same name by the Eurasian author Marayat Rollet-andriane who was born in Bangkok in 1932 and who married a French diplomat when she was 16. The novel was published in 1959 although in its early editions it bore no author’s name and was distributed clandestinely in France before she assumed the pen name of Emmanuelle Arsan for later editions. It was later revealed that at least part if not all of the novel was in fact the work of her husband Louis-Jacques although it appears to have been somewhat of a collaborative work between the two spouses. Whatever the obscurity of its origins, the novel was destined to be become one of the erotic greats.
The film version was directed by Just Jaeckin in 1974 and was an instant world-wide success; no ordinary feat for a French film. The story of a bored young house wife of a diplomat in Thailand and her sexual awakening became an erotic classic and remains to this day one of the most successful French films of all time. Its imagery became recognisable in every culture and in Japan it even entered the language in the phrase “emanieru suru”, “to do Emmanuelle” meaning to have an extravagant wild love affair. Its mainstream success owed much to the decision of Columbia pictures to distribute it world-wide but it was not a decision the studio took lightly. They were scared to death of the soft core steamy production and only agreed to take it on after it was revealed in a survey that most of the French film audiences for it were women! That was alright then! If it was mostly women that watched it then it couldn’t possibly be pornography could it?
The film launched Sylvia Kristel into public recognition. Her brooding sensual eroticism in the film was stunning and carved her a niche as the queen of soft core porn. The image of her posing partially nude in a wicker work chair must be one of the most iconic images in the history of film eroticism. Sylvia was never to lose her image as Emmanuelle. Many of her later films cast her in similarly provocative sexual roles including a series of sequels and such movies as Mata Hari; a film for which she was typecast for the original Mata Hari was herself Dutch, a pornographic icon and lived a life tinged with tragedy. For generations Sylvia would be the face of cinematographic eroticism.
On October the 18th Sylvia’s battle ended peacefully in her sl**p. She was sixty years old and worn and frail then by her long battle with illness. To the world she left behind however she was and would ever be the beautiful Emmanuelle.