The Last Romantic Lover Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: October 25, 2022
Audio: French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and LPCM 2.0
Run Time: 103:09 minutes
Director: Just Jaeckin
Elizabeth (Dayle Haddon), the editor-in-chief of a New York women's magazine, is organizing the Last Romantic Lover contest to find out if men still have a sense of romance. One of the winners is a circus lion-tamer (Gérard Ismaël), whose prize is to spend 10 days with her. (From Cult Epics’ official synopsis)
Porn is rarely an auteur’s business, outside of the most artsy of the arthouse transgressors, however, for a period, the more ‘tasteful’ softcore side of erotic drama engaged in a creative arms race, ruled over by the likes of Tinto Brass, the Italian director behind Salon Kitty (1976), and Spanish-born Jesús Franco, but few were as inescapably tied to softcore than French director Just Jaeckin. In 1974, Jaeckin made his debut Emmanuelle, based on Emmanuelle Arsan’s (a pseudonym for French-Thai actress/writer Marayat Rollet-Andriane) famed erotic novel of the same name (pub. 1967). Along with Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972), John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969), and Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat (1972), the film helped to propel the porno chic era, in which X-rated films (Deep Throat aside, largely harmless by modern XXX/NC-17 standards) were considered viable cinematic art alongside major Hollywood productions.
Given its particularly simple premise, Emmanuelle was prime material for official and unofficial sequel treatments, including Bitto Albertini’s Black Emanuelle (1975, note that they removed one letter ‘m’ from the character’s name to avoid copyright battles), which was built around the unmistakable charms of Indonesian-Dutch actress Laura Gemser and grew into a franchise of (at least) 17 so-called sequels. In the years that followed Emmanuelle, Jaeckin released Story of O (French: Histoire d'O, 1975), based on Pauline Réage’s (aka: Anne Cécile Desclos) groundbreaking sadomasochistic novel of the same name (pub. 1954), and The French Woman (French: Madame Claude, 1977), followed by his debut as a writer/director with The Last Romantic Lover (French: Le dernier amant romantique; aka: Playmate, 1978). The Last Romantic Lover wasn’t the enduring hit that Emmauelle and Story of O were. In fact, despite a North American theatrical run in 1979 that garnered good reviews from Playboy Magazine, it was never officially released on US home video and was, essentially, forgotten by all but the most devout Euro-erotica fans.
The Last Romantic Lover has a classic, almost generic premise that would continue to feed mainstream, family-friendly romantic comedies. On paper, it’s particularly similar to Donald Petrie’s How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003) and, once the contest is decided, it veers into classic screwball territory with bog standard tropes about a metropolitan woman falling for a salt-of-the-earth country boy, complete with animal husbandry montages and a fling in a hay loft. It only really veers from the formula at the end, when the typical love-conquers-all narrative conclusion is mired in ambiguity (I’m enough of a romantic myself to assume the final montage isn’t a fantasy). But the pithy concept is merely a basis for the director’s unique theatricality, off-kilter sense of humor, and occasionally surrealistic artistry. In the end, the marquee appeal of Just Jaeckin directed sex scenes is secondary to baroque set design, arthouse detours, and circus stunts – something akin to Fellini meets Studio 54.
The script was co-written by Ennio De Concini, who worked with Fellini and on other cult films, like Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Italian: La ragazza che sapeva troppo; aka: The Evil Eye, 1963) and Lucio Fulci’s Four of the Apocalypse (Italian: I quattro dell'Apocalisse, 1975), but I think the most relevant work here would be co-scripting Pietro Germi’s Divorce Italian Style (Italian: Divorzio all'italiana, 1961). His participation probably explains The Last Romantic Lover’s very Italian sense of humor, something seemingly tempered by Jaeckin’s own, mellower sensibilities. The other credited writer was Spanish director César Fernández Ardavín, giving the film its pan-Mediterranean feel. Viewers hoping for the softcore melodrama of Emmanuelle or the BDSM controversy of Story of O might be disappointed by The Last Romantic Lover’s lengthy variety show spoof, media satire, and genuinely sweet-natured love story, something that might explain the film’s relative obscurity. Personally, I found it to be a charming little surprise.
As I said above, The Last Romantic Lover was never (officially) released on North American home video and available DVDs didn’t feature English subtitles or dubbing. Your only options were to dig up a bootleg or learn French. Fortunately, Cult Epics has stepped in, releasing not only the first English-friendly disc, but a fully remastered HD debut. This 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer was creating using a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative and the restoration was supervised by cinematographer Robert Fraisse. The results are pretty stunning, given the film’s age and lack of availability over the years. From what I understand, Fraisse essentially invented the European softcore look (with Jaeckin) and it can be difficult to accurately recreate the soft/shallow focus, diffusion, and blooming lights of these films digitally. This transfer doesn’t smooth out the necessary grain or oversharpen the purposefully plush edges, nor does the grain have that noisy quality you see from earlier Eurocult releases from this era. Textures are tight where needed (usually well-lit exteriors), colors are vivid without appearing artificially boosted, and, while some detail is lost in shadows, the black levels seem accurate.
The Last Romantic Lover is presented in its original French with uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix options. In cases like these, I prefer to stick to original mixes whenever possible, so I watched the majority of the film in mono, sampling the 5.1 track from time to time. Overall, the two tracks are actually very similar in terms of cleanliness and volume levels, especially during dialog-heavy sequences. The surround mix makes a small difference where crowds are concerned and only really improves on the original sound when it comes to Pierre Bachelet’s eclectic score, which benefits from the stereo spread and discreet LFE support. If you’re a big disco fan, you’ll enjoy the 5.1, otherwise, I recommend the LPCM mono option.
Commentary with Jeremy Richey – The author of Sylvia Kristel: From Emmanuelle to Chabrol (Cult Epics, 2022) offers up an invaluable look at The Last Romantic Lover and the work of Just Jaeckin for those of us who only really know the director for his softcore movies (for the record, this review was pretty far outside of my comfort zone). Discussion also includes context surrounding the film, its overriding themes and lack of explicit sex, critical reactions to Jaeckin and The Last Romantic Lover, and the careers of the rest of the cast & crew.
2022 interview with Just Jaeckin (18:01, HD) – The director laments his early typecasting as a eroticist and talks about collaborating on the screenplay, his personal connection to the story, the cast, the logistics of shooting the circus sequences, and The Last Romantic Lover’s initially critical drubbing and eventual acceptance.
2022 interview with Dayle Haddon (23:23, HD) – The star discusses her modeling career, the stigma of moving onto a film career, the difficulties of shooting nude scenes, working with Jaeckin on Madame Claude and The Last Romantic Lover, meeting Sylvia Kristel, appealing to cult audiences, overcoming age discrimination, and being a UNICEF ambassador.
Cinémathèque Française 2022 (15:03, HD) – Intro and Q&A footage form the premiere of the remastered version of the film.
Cult Epics trailer gallery
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