I'm probably the only person on this planet who likes VELLUTO NERO, also known as "Emanuelle in Egypt" or the more famous title, BLACK EMANUELLE WHITE EMANUELLE. Few exploitation fans like it (see other reviews at IMDb), most of the actors in the film don't (seem to) like it. Serious critics dismiss it because it's one of those kind of trashy 1970s Italian flicks.
People expecting a typical grind-house film starring the incredibly beautiful Laura Gemser are in for a surprise. The first thing that I noticed about it is how un-erotic it is. As awful as the many 70s Italian soft-porn films are, there's at least always an emphasis on trying to turn on its audience. Take another Laura Gemser film for example, LOVE CAMP, which is crap but from the get go it shows people having (simulated) sex and freely displays naked bodies on a whim, which is what fans expect. Not this one. Just from the opening credit, you know that BLACK EMANUELLE WHITE EMANUELLE is not your average Euro-cult skin flick. The film is not erotic at all. Aside from the appeal of seeing naked women, I can't imagine anyone getting turned on by anything in the film. It's almost deliberately anti-erotic. Watching Laura Gemser on a mound of camel poop doesn't register on my Peter meter. So what's going on here? Why make a soft-porn movie with a beautiful cast and be blaze about the erotic aspects? The director/writer, Fellini favorite Brunello Rondi, was obviously trying to do something different, with the result pleasing no one, including the cast (this after viewing the extras on the DVD). Well, except for me. I love it.
What's unique about this underrated film is as un-erotic as BLACK EMANUELLE WHITE EMANUELLE is, it's remarkably sensual and atmospheric. In fact, it's one of the most sensual films I've ever seen. Sensuality and eroticism are two different things and it's often neglected in lieu of eroticism but not in this film. It oozes sensuality and atmosphere. The lack of tangible storyline, which many have pointed out, actually works here. The whole thing is propelled by mood and the barely there storyline about the power of seduction and how it affects people: Laura is Laura, a world famous model who's jaw-droppingly beautiful and yet she hardly cares about how she attracts people and rarely uses her beauty to manipulate people. Al Cliver is Horatio, a handsome guru who uses his charms, spiritual and physical, to control the rich folks of the villa and Annie Belle is Pina, the young spunky daughter who rebels against everything and loves to use her powers of seduction to help people and to prove she's as good as anyone. The film is an indirect tug-of-war between the three and how they control the people at the villa. It's not an overt competition. In fact, most would probably not notice this as the storyline but it is. The sensuality aspects are weaved within this three-way tug-of-war. At one point, Horatio hypnotizes Laura and she becomes mad and kills a goat and freaks out, always looking outstanding in the process. Horatio was able to make Laura do something her abusive husband (the late Gabriele Tinti, Laura's real life husband) was unable to do.
The film's most compelling parts are with Laura Gemser and Gabriele Tinti. Their scenes together are well acted, difficult, at times unpleasant, and totally believable. IMO, those scenes elevate the movie from standard grind-house flick to art film. The director obviously knew what he was doing with those scenes and they work, to the detriment of many. Having one of the most beautiful woman in the world stand around dead people or the corpse of an animal, the vivid contrast is amazing, wicked and in turn heightens the level of sensuality. Unable to take her husband's constant abuse, Laura runs in the hands of Pina, who's the only one who really loves her for who she is. At one point, Pina and Horatio get it on and the usually unswayable Horatio is suddenly swayed by Pina and wants to leave the villa with her. Pina wants to leave her troubled home too but she knows Horatio is too involved with her mother so Pina and Laura literally walk away from it all.
As much as I love this film, it's not without faults. Excluding the Laura/Gabrielle scenes and Susan Scott's performance, one of the problems is the complete lack of conviction from most of the cast. They look like they didn't exactly know what to do or how to act, certainly Al Cliver. I like Al. Cool actor. But his hypnotizing moments are not very convincing. According to the interview on the DVD, Al and the director didn't get along, so that might explain a few things. There's also some racist overtones. I'm not sure if this reflects the written characters or the writer himself but it's pretty obvious. Another annoying aspect is the nudity. It's fine as it is but there should have been a bit more, certainly on the male side. Every men is buttoned up to their collars and it makes the film look/feel unnecessarily stodgy.
But those faults are hardly enough to detract from the sum of its greatness. Like I said, the film is very sensual, with the overall good-looking cast, truly gorgeous cinematography of the Egyptian landscape and best of all, a brilliant soundtrack by Dario Baldan Bembo. The music is lush, lyrical and unforgettable. It's easily one of my favorite scores ever. It deserves more recognition, as with the movie itself.
Looking at Brunello Rondi's IMDb page, the man had a stellar career. He probably got the movie he wanted to make but unfortunately, it's relegated to near obscurity because it pleased and seemingly still pleases no one. It's a shame because it's good.