Written by: John White on May 3rd, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: France, 1984
Director: Just Jaeckin
Cast: Tawny Kitaen, Brent Huff, Zabou, Bernadette Lafont, Jean Rougerie, Roland Amstutz
DVD released: 5th June 2006
Approximate running time: 100 mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo/5.1
DVD Release: Nucleus Films
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £19.99
Gwendoline has travelled as a stowaway to the far east with her friend, Beth. Once they arrive, Gwendoline is kidnapped and freed by likely rogue, Willard. By bribing and blackmailing Willard the girls get him to lead them on a trek for Gwendoline’s butterfly hunting father who has gone missing upstream. When they discover that Gwendoline’s dad has died, Gwendoline decides to look for an exotic butterfly to name after him. The search takes them from the jungle to the desert through cannibals to an underground matriarchy. Will Willard recognise his true feelings for Gwendoline and will he escape the matriarchy with his virtue intact?
Just Jaeckin was responsible for the film that made softcore pornography respectable, Emmanuelle. His first film brought him worldwide success that he followed up with other erotica like L’histoire d’O. Gwendoline was his last feature film before retirement and a film that the British Board of Film Classification has lost a lot of sleep over. This is the first occasion that the film has been available uncut in the UK and as is usual with these taboo treasures, it is hard to see what the fuss was about.
Gwendoline is equal parts action movie and erotica, although the emphasis is decidedly on the former with only one sex scene to speak of despite copious nudity. If anything, Gwendoline is a very successful comic book romp with exaggerated acting and tremendous mise en scene. It is staggering to consider how wonderfully this production is mounted and the real craft that went into the sequences with the matriarchy. These sequences of impossible machines tended to by gorgeous women, and the brilliance of the imagination behind them has to be applauded. That the film takes 55 minutes to get to these setpieces and that is delivered at breakneck pace is a sign of the competence in the adventure angle of the story too.
This is not to say that Gwendoline is an acting master-class. The leads are chosen for their attractiveness rather than their Thespian abilities but they do strike the right note of camp and tongue in cheekness to make this a fun ride. Brent Huff as Willard is especially good with the wisecracks and the Harrison Ford impression and Tawny Kitaen has the kind of eyes that you could swim in for the rest of your allotted time on earth. The film is set in a kind of composite foreign world which mixes East Asians with Amazonian jungle and Saharan desert, it is not a real place and this lack of verite is rather heartening.
In the end, Jaeckin has serious fun with machines of elegant torture and sword and sandals staples recycled through the glorious eighties décor. The story resolves itself in romance and true love and the audience can’t help going home with a smile on it’s giddy faces. Gwendoline is not an erotic masterpiece but it is a wonderful antidote to the films it apes with no attempt at po faced moralising or the dodgy imperialism of Indiana Jones. You will have fun watching Gwendoline.
Nucleus have done an excellent job on this film. The anamorphic transfer is incredibly sharp with vibrant colours and excellent contrast. The transfer does look better to my eye than on the previous 10k Bullets review you will find here – slightly sharper and lighter to my eye. The sound comes in stereo or 5.1 in either French or English, English subtitles are also provided.
There is a directory commentary and a fine interview with Just Jaeckin talking about the level of pre-production on Gwendoline which helped a small budget stretch much further than seems possible. There is also a theatrical trailer, photo gallery, alternative opening titles, and trailers for other Nucleus releases.
I seriously enjoyed Gwendoline and if you like B movies with great craft then you will find a lot to like here, don’t be put off by the claims of being erotica as this is really a romantic adventure. This is an excellent presentation of a fun film, it’s a keeper.
Opening (French DVD Release)DVD