Gwendoline Review

Gwendoline, the latest release from fledgling outfit Nucleus Films, is being marketed – quite correctly – as a “guilty pleasure”. It’s undeniable that this isn’t a film to be enjoyed on its own merits, rather it’s the sheer strangeness and unlikeliness of content which will most likely attract an audience. And indeed, Gwendoline does seem like an enticing prospect: director Just Jaeckin following up Emmanuelle, The Story of O and Lady Chatterley’s Lover with his, to date, final feature, a loose adaptation of John Willie’s comic strips starring the quintessentially eighties’ Tawny Kitaen (Bachelor Party, Witchboard) and involving all manner of odd behaviour. This is a film which takes in kung fu, cannibalism and coy nudity; the hunt for a rare butterfly and a giant rubber crocodile; a film which recalls, alternately, a low-budget direct-to-video soft-porn remake of Indiana Jones, the Bo Derek retelling of the Tarzan story (made only a few years earlier) and Jane and the Lost City, that long forgotten adaptation of the Sun’s comic strip which inexplicably found a role for Jasper Carrott.

Yet if Gwendoline is a guilty pleasure then it must rank as an extremely guilty one. For all its bizarre hooks and outlandish plot developments – the story concludes with a bunch of be-thonged and topless Amazonians indulging in various sadomasochistic practices – the unfortunate truth is that this simply isn’t all that good a film. Jaeckin never seems to realise that the material be better suited by a more detached and more knowing attitude (à la the tongue-in-cheek antics of Big Trouble in Little China, perhaps?) and instead takes everything at face value – the problem with this being that when it comes to either action or comedy he proves himself to be a terrible director. He simply doesn’t seem capable of understanding their mechanics and as such the results are somewhat curious as well as embarrassing. It comes as no surprise to remember that Jaeckin’s most successful films - Emmanuelle and The Story of O - were titles which never indulged in fisticuffs or having a sense of humour.

In his contribution to the special features – an individual interview as well as group commentary – Jaeckin repeatedly refers to himself as “the eyes”, a nod to his talent for seeking out new faces via his films or photography (over the years Jaeckin has contributed to, amongst others, Vogue and Harpers & Queen). He notes Sylvia Kristel as the prime example, of course, and puts Kitaen in a similar category, yet her choice as Gwendoline is just another problem. In its defence, this is a film which lends itself to a cartoon-ish feel – ’scope framing, theatrical set-ups, exotic locations – yet the decision to cast primarily models over actors (we also have Brent Huff in the male lead and Zabou as Kitaen’s maid/confidante) leaves the characters cold and unknowable. Certainly it helps little that they are nothing more than bundles of clichés – machismo for the men, simpering girl-ish “qualities” for the women – yet there’s so little charisma on display that we ultimately care little.

However, with all that said, Gwendoline may nonetheless strike some, perhaps even many, as an interesting prospect. It may lurch from episode to laboured episode and in a manner which involves graceless direction and acting, but then it also offers all manner of oddities. As such no matter the reality of the situation – ie that this really isn’t all that good a film - Gwendoline may nevertheless attract a sizeable number of the curious. And by all means, do check it out if you fit into this category and feel so disposed – at the very least you’ll get to sample something a little different - just don’t place too many expectations on what is a very creaky, very trashy picture which can’t live up to them.

The Disc

Whilst many another company may treat Gwendoline to nothing more than a belated, extras-free, cut-price release, Nucleus have done the honourable thing and turned in a fine special edition for those who do take pleasure, whether guilty or not, from the film. First off is a fine, digitally remastered widescreen transfer which retains the original 2.35:1 framing and presents it with anamorphic enhancement. Admittedly things aren't utterly perfect, but the film does look good for its age (1984) and will no doubt satisfy the cultists and trash connoisseurs. Furthermore, the soundtrack is also in agreeable shape, with both a DD2.0 offering of the original and a newly created DD5.1 upgrade. In both we still have to contend with the cheesy score and cheesier dialogue, but technical flaws are to a minimum resulting in no major complaints. The disc also has DD2.0 and DD5.1 for the French soundtrack – with optional subs – thereby allowing the viewer the choice as to which they go for. Certainly, some of the dubbing is a little hard to take in the English version, though many may prefer to see Kitaen speak in her native tongue.

It’s in the extras, however, where the disc really impresses. Alongside such minor, but nonetheless welcome, additions such as the alternate US credit sequence (the film was renamed The Perils of Gwendoline) and a Kitaen photo gallery shot by her director, we find a pair of meaty contributions from Jaeckin in the form of a lengthy newly recorded interview (titled ‘The Perils of Just’) and a group commentary alongside Frederic Albert Levy and Tony Crawley. With both there’s that certain issue of the film’s quality to overcome – ie none of the commentators nor Jaeckin himself seem willing to touch on the flaws – but both offer a wealth of interesting information. Moreover, the interview allows the director to touch on his career as a whole, thus leading to discussion of his photographic career and, inevitably, Emmanuelle. Rounding off the package we also find notes on Gwendoline’s history with the BBFC (this disc represents its first uncut outing in the UK), a pair of trailers and a gallery full of posters, video sleeve art and the like.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 05:00:22

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