Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Recently I was able to get a copy of the English translation to Sylvia Kristel's memoirs, NUE. Re-titled UNDRESSING EMMANUELLE, Kristel's book is a very moving and interesting one that I found compulsively readable.
Kristel focuses mostly on her, often harrowing, personal life and her writing is honest, humorous and finally pretty touching. She recounts her early days in Utrecht at her families hotel, where she was abandoned by her father and abused by an 'uncle'. Her early memories are very vivid, and this first section of the book is a real highlight. She also notes on how she was given alcohol even as an infant, so her later addictions were probably inevitable.
Her early years were often spent in isolation with her thoughts, or with her sister. It is obvious that discovering both film and painting meant a lot to her, with painting especially giving her a light place to go to in her darkest moments.
Her life became a whirlwind in her late teens when she won a Dutch beauty contest, and then with almost no experience was cast in EMMANUELLE. Her memories on making the film are really engrossing. It is obvious that the film was a blessing and a curse for the talented Kristel, as it was a a part that she was never able to fully escape from.
The EMMANUELLE chapter will be totally captivating to lovers of seventies cinema, and Kristel's memories are both poignant and humorous. It is striking to be reminded at how low budget the film was, and how its overwhelming success was truly surprising. Kristel is interesting in how she seemed to realize that becoming a star gave her another role she had to play, one that she would dress for and act out to her fullest...this section of the book is particularly enlightening and its a real reminder as to how big Sylvia Kristel was for a time in the mid seventies.
The second half of the book is like a landslide of disappointments and heartaches. From harrowing descriptions of drug addiction, alcoholism, to her finally miscarrying her second child after falling down some stairs, you just want to reach out and help this lady who seems to continually get trapped in bad situation after bad situation.
Kristel isn't blameless though, and she is quick to point out her flaws. She is especially regretful about leaving her son alone so much as a child as she struggled with her addictions. It makes the last section of the book seem triumphant when you read about how close relationship is now.
After her lowest period in the late eighties when a certain companion got her in serious trouble with debt and the law, Sylvia went through what seems to be her own season in hell before she was bravely forced to battled cancer not once but twice.
She thankfully seems like she is in a fairly good place now, although one can't help shake the loneliness at the heart of this woman's life. One gets the feeling after reading this is that this woman deserved much more personally and professionally than she got.
The book is slight disappointing in that it doesn't focus too much on her varied film career, with only the first EMMANUELLE film afforded more than a few paragraphs to it. Still, when she does mention her films, her remarks are of great interest.
Her favorites are clearly Borowczyk's LA MARGE, Roger Vadim's UNE FEMME FIDELE, Chabrol's ALICE, and the two film's she made with Just Jaeckin (EMMANUELLE and LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER). Grillet's PLAYING WITH FIRE only gets a paragraph or so dedicated to it as well.
She surprisingly likes GOODBYE EMMANUELLE, and has very mixed feelings concerning what I think is the best of the trilogy, EMMANUELLE, THE JOYS OF A WOMAN. She also states clearly that she considers LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER was her last important film, and dismisses the rest of them. She only briefly mentions Curtis Harrington's flawed but interesting MATA HARI, just enough to say how difficult the shoot was.
She tells lots of great stories about some film notables. I especially like the ongoing flirtatious and funny Warren Beatty meetings, and her memories of Alain Delon on the set of CONCORDE AIRPORT 79 are incredible.
She never lets you lose the young dreamer from the first half of the book, and her tales of everyone from Bette Davis to Catherine Deneuve show her as still an awe-struck fan at heart.
I liked the book very much, even though I really would have liked more thoughts on her films. I must say that after recently writing so much on LA MARGE, that it was great to see her call it her favorite role.
The book is a quick read at nearly 300 pages, and the translated version as a good selection of photographs that the original French didn't.
The great Kristel is still lovely and is apparently in good health. She no longer acts, but is a successful painter and seems to get a real spiritual satisfaction from it. I was really pleased to find that I very much liked the real woman behind one of my favorite cinematic icons. She is funny, genuine, and very real...I hope she continues to find the peace that evaded her for so much of her early life.
To see my collection of Sylvia photos, including some rare ones, please visit my tribute page here.