Whatever I expected from a film described on the back blurb of the blu-ray case as "the seminal soft core porn classic", it certainly wasn't hearing a wholesale ripoff of legendary prog rock band King Crimson's Lark's Tongue in Aspic Part II used as a soundtrack theme. Stealing it was, but I have to admire the gumption of (ha!) composer Pierre Bachelet to imagine that gnarly intimidating track as a serenade to nearly every major sex scene in the film, and some of the reworkings using flute and acoustic percussion ain't half bad.
For the rest, Emmanuelle sets the E(u)rotic movie pattern. The titular heroine (Sylvia Kristel, very easy on the eye) is the archetype fish out of water in exotic Thailand where she has come to join her husband Jean (Daniel Sarky) - as Roger Ebert describes in his review "a world of wicker furniture, soft pastels, vaguely Victorian lingerie, backlighting, forests of potted plants, and lots of diaphanous draperies shifting in the breeze". Add to that description, a batch of native servants who like to spy on their employer's sexual activities and in turn carry out their own physical comedies.
Jean claims to want Em to not feel tied to him, and to try out any sexual experiments she wants. But it would appear in fact that little Jean wants her to be liberated only in the shallow unromantic manner he and his society of expats indulge in. When she ignores the clique of bored grope-happy neighbors and falls for a winsome lady archeologist (Marika Green), he shows himself a jealous husband like any other. Sylvia's scenes with Marika are some of the best in the film, sexy, funny and carrying a palpable sense of romance. Most of the sex thus far is of the tame variety, pleasant to look at without being outright fap material (unless you're in your teens, in which case little isn't).
After she is sent off by Marika, Em returns to Jean who then coaxes her to go with aging Casanova Mario (Alain Cuny). Mario looks somewhat like David Lynch and talks like you would expect Lynch to, if you knew him only from his movies, a lot of solemn balderdash. Mario's ideas of sexual liberation take the film into queasy territory, including a gang rape sequence and later one where Em is made the prize of a Thai boxing bout. She accepts these situations with questionable equanimity and we must believe that they contribute to her erotic awakening. Maybe it's just me, but I find the frank exploitation scenes of Zakhmi Aurat or Savage Streets more palatable than such arty rape fantasies.
Still, for most of its running time, Emmanuelle is a pleasant trip with good looking actors, ravishing locales, lovely soft focus photography (Richard Suzuki)...and yes, large swathes of Larks Tongue in Aspic Part Sex.