The Last Romantic Lover Blu-ray
directed by Just Jaeckin
starring Dayle Haddon, Gérard Ismaël, and Fernando Rey
Just Jaeckin became one of the architects of what could now be described as elevated smut in the mid-to-late 1970s with his film Emmanuelle, which became a worldwide blockbuster and spawned countless sequels, both official and unofficial. Following two more soft core sex films, The Story of O (1975) and Madame Claude (1977), Jaeckin jumped at the chance to expand his creative horizons with the screwball comedy The Last Romantic Lover (1978). The film, starring Dayle Haddon, Gérard Ismaël, and Fernando Rey, still delivered a good deal of soft focus nudity, but the odd film didn’t catch on with critics or audiences. Decades later, Jaeckin’s wrongly maligned film is being given a second chance, thanks to boutique Blu-ray label Cult Epics.
The Last Romantic Lover opens with a beautiful and slightly surreal scene as a small circus troupe holds a nocturnal funeral procession for a deceased lion, illuminated by torches and with the troupe’s fire breather leading the procession. This pastoral bit of melancholy is soon to be contrasted with the glamorous and cut-throat world of publishing and television as skin-magazine publisher Elisabeth (Dayle Haddon, North Dallas Forty ) announces a televised male beauty pageant to crown the “Last Romantic Lover.” The patriarch of the circus, Max (Fernando Rey, The French Connection ), convinces his lion tamer Pierre (Gérard Ismaël) to join the contest in an attempt to win the $30,000 cash prize and buy a new lion to save the circus. The reluctant Pierre finds himself coming in second place with a prize for a 10-day vacation with the woman of his choice. In a bizarre twist, he chooses the career-driven sophisticate Elisabeth to accompany him on his vacation. So the unlikely couple heads to the circus, where Pierre is determined to show her what real romance is far away from Elisabeth’s slick cynical world. When Pierre and Elisabeth arrive at the circus, the film really finds its footing. The beauty and slow pace of the French countryside is a stark contrast to Elisabeth’s rat race life that requires her to schedule sex with her fiancé down to the minute. The duo spends the first couple of days working to make each other’s lives miserable, yet Elisabeth finds herself starting to fall under the spell of Pierre’s gentle unsophisticated personality. His circus family doesn’t care for the way Elisabeth is treating Pierre, and they stage a horrific attack to drive out the interloper in their midst in a scene clearly inspired by Tod Browning 1932 film Freaks. After this harrowing night, Elisabeth proves her toughness by staying on at the circus and begins to train and even performs with the troupe right before her 10 days with the circus ends, but has Pierre melted Elisabeth’s chilly heart?
Jaeckin’s visual style, honed by years as a fashion photographer, shines throughout, capturing the beauty of both his pastoral setting and leading lady Dayle Haddon. Haddon and Ismaël have terrific chemistry and they really sell the unlikely story. The film is intentionally less overtly erotic than Emmanuelle and The Story of O, which was a shock to audiences at the time and led to the film being ignored at the box office and subsequently forgotten, but on its own merits, away from the long shadow of Emmanuelle, The Last Romantic Lover is a thoroughly entertaining film combining sex, satire, and romance with a sprinkling of feminism rolled into an often breathtaking visual package. This gorgeous Blu-ray from Cult Epics attempts to rectify past wrongs by introducing the film to a new audience that, hopefully free of expectations, can take the time to fall in love with this quirky film from one of the signature voices in European cinema of the early seventies.