The Mysterious Tale of 2 Women Behind Softcore Porn's Most Notorious Series

RealClear Staff


Even 40 years later, the "Emmanuelle" films remain the gold standard of softcore porn films. The movies truly revolutionalized sex in the cinema. Meet the two women behind the phenomenon.

1. A Hot Summer in Paris

June 26, 1974, a softcore porn film opened in Paris called "Emmanuelle." It was directed by Just Jaeckin, a celebrated French photgrapher who was making his directorial debut. But the success of the film and its sequels relied on two women: author Emmanuelle Arsan and lead actress Sylvia Kristel. 

2. Liberating for Women?

Many have called "Emmanuelle" a male fantasy -- it is about the sexual liberation of a French diplomat's wife in Thailand -- but its success as the first mainstream X-rated softcore porn film was often attributed to women. After the film set box-office records in France, Columbia Pictures distributed the film in the United States after learning that the audience seen in line for Emmanuelle was mostly women. So their advertising for the film took a highbrow approach to marketing. The tagline for the film "X was never like this."

It was a smash in Japan, too. Sylvia Kristel stated that "Japanese feminists were rather delighted with the film because they thought Emmanuelle was dominant, just because of this one scene where she climbs on top of her husband. That was the moment when all the Japanese women stood up and applauded." 

3. A Scandalous Novel -- and a Mystery

The movie "Emmanuelle" was based on a best-selling book first officially published in France in 1967. But it had been first published "underground" -- without an author's name -- in 1959. With the loosening-up of the 1960s, it was finally published for mass audiences, with the author's name listed as "Emmanuelle Arsan." But who was this Emmanuelle Arsan?

4. The Alluring Actress

In 1966, an Asian actress caught audiences' eyes in the Oscar-nominated film "The Sand Pebbles," a movie about a cynical American soldier (Steve McQueen) on a U.S. gunboat patrolling China's Yangtze River in the 1920s, and a British sailor (Richard Attenborough) in love with a Chinese girl. But the actress who played the Chinese girl wasn't Chinese; she instead was the Thai-born Marayat Andriane, the wife of a French diplomat.

Wait; the wife of a French diplomat ... like the French diplomat who was stationed in Thailand in the novel "Emmanuelle"? Yes, Marayat was outed as the author Emmanuelle Arsan!

5. The Sex Symbol

Marayat Andriane quit films and television and concentrated on her writing and modeling and other pursuits. Born into an aristocratic Siamese family in 1932, she first met her future husband, French diplomat Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane, while at school in Switzerland when she was 16. They married eight years later in 1956.

Marayat and Louis-Jacques had an "open" relationship. While stationed in Thailand, they created a sensation among the expats and jet-setters who turned the Thai capital into a popular destination for swingers. So "Emmanuelle" was quite autobiographical.

6. The Dutch Model

It was inevitable that a film version of "Emmanuelle" would be made, especially after the success of the 1972 X-rated film "Last Tango in Paris," which starred Marlon Brando. Producer Producer Yves Rousset-Rouard obtained the rights to the novel and tabbed  French artist and photographer Just Jaeckin to direct. But who would play Emmanuelle? After scouring Europe for months, they finally settled on Dutch model Sylvia Kristel, 21, was cast. It would prove to be the right choice.

7. An Erotic Sensation

"Emmanuelle" became a world-wide box-office smash. And it wasn't just that there was a ton of sex and nudity. The film was actually, well, classy. "There have been movies influenced by other movies, and directors influenced by other directors, but 'Emmanuelle' may be the first movie influenced by magazine centerfolds," wrote Roger Ebert in his Chicago Sun-Times review (he gave it 3 stars out of 4). "Its style of color photography seems directly ripped off from the centerfolds in Penthouse, including even the props and decor. Its characters (French diplomats and -- especially -- their women in Thailand) inhabit a world of wicker furniture, soft pastels, vaguely Victorian lingerie, backlighting, forests of potted plants, and lots of diaphanous draperies shifting in the breeze. ... (In a) dizzying series of sexual encounters that range from the merely kinky to the truly bizarre ... Emmanuelle somehow retains her innocence. The director, Just Jaeckin, correctly understands that gymnastics and heavy breathing do not an erotic movie make, nor does excessive attention to gynecological detail. Carefully deployed clothing can, indeed, be more erotic than plain nudity."

8. Dutch Treat

Sylvia Kristel became a world-wide star, an went on to star in many erotic films, including "Emmanuelle" sequels, "Lady Chatterley's Lover" (below) and the American comedy "Private Lessons."  

9. Re-Enter the Real Emmanuelle

Under the name Emmanuelle Arsan, Marayat Rollet-Andriane made one more film appearance, in "Forever Emmanuelle" (a.k.a "Laure"). She was also credited as director, although in reality her husband co-directed the film.

10. Sad Endings

Unfortunately, no one stays young forever. Although an international softcore star for some 10 years, Sylvia Kristel never was able to break through into mainstream success. In a 2007 autobiography, "Undressing Emmanuelle: A Memoir," she admitted to a longstanding cocaine addiction. A lifelong smoker, she contracted throat and lung cancer and died in 2012 at age 60.

Marayat Rollet-Andriane's life was, by all accounts, happier. She and her husband, Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane, retired to the south of France in the 1980s. She died in 2005 at age 73. Amazingly, despite their open relationship, Marayat and Louis-Jacques were married for almost 50 years before her death.



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