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Iconic stories have a timeless appeal, captivating audiences across generations and constantly finding new ways to be retold. The cinematic world often revisits such narratives, injecting fresh perspectives while retaining the essence that made them classics. One such enduring tale is “Emmanuelle,” synonymous with erotic exploration and liberation. The 2024 rendition by Audrey Diwan is poised to reignite interest in this iconic narrative, promising a modern twist that resonates with contemporary audiences.

Audrey Diwan, who garnered critical acclaim with her Golden Lion-winning film “Happening,” takes the helm of this ambitious project. Her interpretation of “Emmanuelle” is a retelling and a reimagining that aligns with the post-Me Too era’s sensibilities. This adaptation, starring Noémie Merlant in the titular role, explores themes of pleasure, power, and vulnerability through the journey of a woman navigating a labyrinth of encounters during a business trip to Hong Kong.

“Emmanuelle” is set to premiere at the prestigious San Sebastián International Film Festival, signalling its strong potential to impact critics and audiences significantly. This article will delve deeper into why Diwan’s “Emmanuelle” stands out, exploring its thematic relevance, stellar cast, and visionary direction that aims to redefine an iconic story for a new generation.

The Legacy of “Emmanuelle” and Emmanuelle Arsan

The film “Emmanuelle,” directed by Audrey Diwan, is rooted in a literary legacy that began with the novel of the same name by Emmanuelle Arsan. Published in 1959, “Emmanuelle” became a cultural phenomenon renowned for its explicit exploration of female sexuality and eroticism. The book’s impact was profound, sparking acclaim and controversy due to its candid content and the mystery surrounding its author.

Emmanuelle Arsan, source:

Emmanuelle Arsan, the pen name of Marayat Rollet-Andriane, was a Thai-French writer whose work pushed the boundaries of literary erotica. Born Marayat Bibidh in Bangkok in 1932, she moved to France, where she adopted her pseudonym and began her writing career. Arsan’s work is often celebrated for its lyrical prose and bold thematic content, which challenged societal norms and censorship laws of the time. Her narrative was groundbreaking in presenting female sexuality from a woman’s perspective, offering an unflinching look at desire and liberation.

“Emmanuelle” tells the story of a young French woman who embarks on a journey of sexual discovery in Bangkok. The protagonist, Emmanuelle, explores her desires through a series of erotic adventures guided by her mentor, Mario. The novel is notable not only for its explicit content but also for its philosophical underpinnings, delving into themes of freedom, love, and the nature of eroticism.

The book’s publication marked a significant moment in literary history. It was initially released in France and quickly became a bestseller, eventually translated into dozens of languages. “Emmanuelle” has sold over 20 million copies worldwide, demonstrating its enduring appeal and influence. The novel’s success paved the way for sequels, further cementing its status as a seminal work in erotic literature.

One of the most intriguing aspects of “Emmanuelle” is its authorship. Writing under a pseudonym, Arsan maintained a degree of anonymity that added to the book’s allure and mystique. The fact that such a provocative and explicit narrative was penned by a woman was particularly significant, challenging the male-dominated landscape of erotic literature at the time. Arsan’s perspective offered a fresh and authentic voice that resonated with readers, contributing to the novel’s groundbreaking status.

The interest in having “Emmanuelle” written by a woman cannot be understated. It provided a counter-narrative to the predominantly male viewpoints that dominated the genre, offering an exploration of female pleasure and autonomy. Arsan’s work paved the way for future generations of female writers in the genre, highlighting the importance of diverse voices in literature.

As we revisit “Emmanuelle” through Audrey Diwan’s film adaptation, it is essential to recognize the novel’s legacy and the pioneering spirit of Emmanuelle Arsan. Her contribution to literature and the exploration of female sexuality remains a cornerstone in the genre, reminding us of the power of storytelling in challenging societal norms and celebrating human desire.

Emmanuelle: A bridge across multiple generations of women

Emmanuelle, the central character of Emmanuelle Arsan’s novel and Audrey Diwan’s upcoming film adaptation, embodies a complex blend of curiosity, sensuality, and existential quest. Her character is not merely a symbol of eroticism but also a representation of a woman’s journey toward self-discovery and liberation.

In the novel, Emmanuelle is depicted as an elegant and adventurous young Frenchwoman living in Bangkok. Her personality is defined by an insatiable curiosity and a profound desire to explore the depths of her sexuality. She is intelligent, articulate, and unafraid to challenge societal norms. Her journey is driven by a need to understand and experience pleasure in its myriad forms, making her both a seeker and a rebel in a conservative society.

Emmanuelle’s quest begins in the exotic and permissive environment of Bangkok, where she is initially introduced to the world of eroticism by her husband, Jean. Encouraged to explore her desires without restraint, she embarks on a series of sexual encounters that are both liberating and enlightening. Her mentor, Mario, further guides her through this journey, pushing her to confront inhibitions and societal taboos.

Her character’s evolution from a passive participant to an active seeker of pleasure mirrors broader themes of liberation and self-empowerment. Emmanuelle’s story is as much about the pursuit of pleasure as it is about the search for identity and meaning in a world that often seeks to confine and define women through narrow lenses.

Drawing a parallel between the original 1959 context and today, Emmanuelle’s character remains relevant. In the late 1950s, the character’s bold exploration of sexuality was a stark contrast to the conservative values of the time. Emmanuelle challenged the status quo, questioning the limitations placed on women’s sexual expression. Today, her story resonates within the post-Me Too era, where conversations about female autonomy, consent, and sexual freedom are more pertinent than ever.

Emmanuelle’s journey reflects ongoing struggles for gender equality and the right to sexual self-determination. Her character continues to inspire as a figure who transcends time, advocating for the right to explore one’s desires without shame or societal constraint. Through Audrey Diwan’s adaptation, Emmanuelle’s timeless quest is reimagined for a contemporary audience, reinforcing the enduring power of her story.

Audrey Diwan – The Vision Behind the New “Emmanuelle

Audrey Diwan

Audrey Diwan, an accomplished filmmaker and writer, brings her distinctive vision and storytelling prowess to the new adaptation of “Emmanuelle.” Diwan’s rise in the cinematic world has been marked by her ability to tackle complex, often controversial subjects with sensitivity and depth. Her previous works have garnered critical acclaim, establishing her as a bold and insightful director.

Diwan first captured widespread attention with her 2019 film “Mais vous êtes fous” (“Losing It”), which explored themes of addiction and the fragility of human relationships. However, it was her 2021 film “Happening” (“L’événement”) that solidified her reputation as a formidable talent. “Happening,” an adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel about illegal abortion in 1960s France, won the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and received multiple César and BAFTA nominations. The film was praised for its unflinching portrayal of a young woman’s struggle for bodily autonomy, showcasing Diwan’s skill in blending personal narrative with broader social commentary.

“Initially, when I write, I always feel the need to seek an intimate connection with the story. So my film will take place nowadays. Emmanuelle is a woman who is close to my age. I wanted to explore her quest for pleasure, what she represents when you have already made a way in your life. When we are not in discovery, but in research.”

Audrey Diwan, The Film Stage – February 14, 2023

Diwan’s decision to direct “Emmanuelle” stems from her deep interest in stories that explore the nuances of female experience and identity. She was drawn to “Emmanuelle” because it offers a rich tapestry of themes related to pleasure, power, and self-discovery – subjects she has consistently explored in her work. Diwan’s approach to “Emmanuelle” is informed by her commitment to presenting authentic and layered portrayals of women’s lives, making her an ideal candidate to reinterpret this iconic story for contemporary audiences.

Source: Link from

In “Emmanuelle,” Diwan aims to explore the titular character’s quest for pleasure and meaning in a way that resonates with today’s socio-cultural landscape. By situating the post-Me Too era narrative, she seeks to address the evolving discourse around female sexuality, consent, and empowerment. Diwan’s adaptation promises to retain the provocative essence of the original while infusing it with a modern sensibility that highlights the character’s autonomy and agency.

Audrey Diwan’s distinctive style is characterized by her meticulous attention to detail, emotional depth, and ability to create intimate, character-driven stories. Her films often feature strong visual storytelling, where the cinematography and mise-en-scène play crucial roles in conveying the inner lives of her characters. In “Emmanuelle,” viewers can expect a visually sumptuous experience that captures Hong Kong and Paris’s lush, exotic settings, combined with a nuanced exploration of Emmanuelle’s internal journey.

Diwan’s collaboration with actress Noémie Merlant, known for her powerful performances in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and “Tár,” further elevates the project. Merlant’s ability to embody complex emotions and on-screen presence aligns perfectly with Diwan’s vision for Emmanuelle’s character. Together, they are set to deliver a film that is aesthetically captivating and thematically profound, offering a fresh and compelling take on a timeless story.

In conclusion, Audrey Diwan’s adaptation of “Emmanuelle” is poised to be a standout in her career and contemporary cinema. Her unique perspective and proven track record of handling intricate themes with grace and insight ensure that this film will honour its literary origins and resonate powerfully with modern audiences.

Noémie Merlant – Embodying Emmanuelle

Noémie Merlant – Image linked from: – © AUSTIN HARGRAVE

Noémie Merlant, an acclaimed French actress, brings a compelling mix of grace, depth, and intensity to the role of Emmanuelle. Born November 27, 1988, in Paris, Merlant has carved out a remarkable French and international cinema career. She initially trained at the prestigious Cours Florent drama school, which set the stage for her versatile acting career.

Merlant’s breakout role came in 2019 with Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” where she played the passionate and conflicted artist Marianne. This performance earned her widespread critical acclaim, a César Award nomination for Best Actress, and international recognition. Her portrayal of Marianne showcased her ability to convey profound emotional complexity, a quality that makes her a perfect fit for the multifaceted character of Emmanuelle.

Throughout her career, Merlant has demonstrated a fearless commitment to her roles, often choosing characters that challenge societal norms and delve into the intricacies of human experience. Her performances in films like “Tár,” “One Year, One Night,” and “The Innocent” have further cemented her reputation as one of the most talented actresses of her generation.

“Noémie redefines the French woman. Her attitude, her smile, that hint of insolence that often surfaces. I am also sensitive to the idea of finding in my actress an intellectual partner, the one with whom I create the character. The film requires enormous involvement, mutual trust. And I know I found the one.”

Audrey Diwan, The Film Stage – February 14, 2023

The parallels between Noémie Merlant and Emmanuelle Arsan, the author of “Emmanuelle,” are intriguing. Both women have used their art to explore desire, identity, and liberation themes. Arsan, writing under a pseudonym, broke societal taboos by vividly portraying female sexuality in her novel. Similarly, Merlant’s acting choices reflect a dedication to exploring complex female characters who defy conventional expectations. This alignment of artistic vision between the author and the actress adds a layer of authenticity to Merlant’s portrayal of Emmanuelle.

Drawing a parallel between Merlant and Sylvia Kristel, the original actress who brought Emmanuelle to life in the 1974 film adaptation, reveals interesting contrasts and continuities. Kristel’s portrayal was iconic for its time, characterized by a soft sensuality and a pioneering spirit in erotic cinema. Merlant, on the other hand, brings a contemporary edge to the role, informed by the current dialogues around female agency and empowerment. While Kristel’s Emmanuelle was groundbreaking for its era, Merlant’s interpretation is poised to resonate with today’s audience through a lens of introspection and emotional depth.

Noémie Merlant in Emmanuelle by Audrey Diwan

Audrey Diwan’s selection of Merlant for this role speaks volumes about what we can expect from her performance. Merlant’s ability to convey vulnerability and strength simultaneously will bring Emmanuelle a nuanced and layered portrayal. Her collaboration with Diwan, a director known for her intimate and emotionally charged storytelling, promises to breathe new life into the character. Merlant’s Emmanuelle is expected to reflect contemporary womanhood—assertive, inquisitive, and profoundly human.

As Emmanuelle, Merlant will likely explore the character’s journey with an authenticity that bridges the past and present. She will infuse Emmanuelle with a sense of modernity while honouring the character’s original spirit of exploration and liberation. Her performance is anticipated to blend raw emotion, intellectual curiosity, and sensuality, making her a compelling centrepiece in Diwan’s adaptation of this timeless story.

Naomi Watts in Audrey Diwan’s “Emmanuelle

In Audrey Diwan’s new adaptation of “Emmanuelle,” Naomi Watts is pivotal in adding depth and intrigue to the story. While the specifics of her character have been kept under wraps, Watts is expected to portray a key figure in Emmanuelle’s journey of self-discovery and sensual exploration. Her character is likely to be one of the significant encounters Emmanuelle has during her business trip to Hong Kong, offering a counterpoint or complement to Emmanuelle’s quest for pleasure and meaning.

Naomi Watts and Noémie Merlant – Image linked from – © Naomi Watts Instagram.

Audrey Diwan’s choice of Naomi Watts for this role is a testament to the actress’s versatility and ability to portray complex, multi-dimensional characters. Watts, known for her powerful performances in films like “Mulholland Drive,” “21 Grams,” and “The Impossible,” brings a combination of emotional intensity and nuanced acting to the project. Her experience playing roles that require a deep emotional range makes her an ideal fit for the mature and sophisticated narrative of “Emmanuelle.”

Watts’s inclusion in the cast also ensures a high level of gravitas and international appeal, given her status as a globally recognized and respected actress. Her collaboration with Noémie Merlant and Audrey Diwan promises to elevate the film, bringing a compelling dynamic to the screen that aligns with Diwan’s vision of exploring female autonomy and pleasure in a modern context.

Conclusion: Emmanuelle – A Timeless Icon Reimagined

Since its inception, “Emmanuelle” has captivated audiences, becoming a pop icon known for its daring exploration of female sexuality and liberation. The novel by Emmanuelle Arsan broke boundaries in 1959, challenging societal norms and offering a fresh, authentic perspective on desire from a woman’s point of view. This narrative resonated deeply, and the subsequent 1974 film adaptation starring Sylvia Kristel only amplified its cultural impact, cementing “Emmanuelle” as a symbol of erotic freedom and empowerment.

Releasing a new adaptation now is particularly timely. In the post-Me Too era, discussions around female agency, consent, and sexual autonomy are more relevant than ever. Audrey Diwan’s contemporary retelling promises to honour the original’s spirit while engaging with these modern themes. It is both a tribute to the classic and a fresh, insightful commentary on today’s societal landscape.

“Emmanuelle” will premiere at the San Sebastián International Film Festival on September 20, 2024, and will be released theatrically in France on September 25, 2024. This eagerly anticipated film is poised to captivate a new generation of viewers, blending provocative storytelling with rich, emotional depth.

As we eagerly await its release, let’s say that “Emmanuelle” is ready to seduce audiences again, proving that some stories—and pleasures—never go out of style. Prepare to be tantalized as this timeless tale shows us all that, when exploring desire, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

José Amorim
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