Languid jazz and seductive sunny beaches signify an altogether more sophisticated, dare one say romantic era in sexploitation cinema. Je suis une nymphomane (variously known as Night Pleasures, The Sensuous Teenager and Libido: The Urge to Love) recounts the touching tale of Carole (Sandra Julien), a cute provincial girl who tumbles down an elevator shaft and awakens to discover she is - zoot alors! - une wanton nympho! Inexplicably spurned by her fiancé Eric (Alain Hitier), cast out by her staid bourgeois parents (Richard Saint-Bris and France-Noëlle), poor Carole trawls the beach in her tiny miniskirt, joins a hippie gang-bang, and even succumbs to the advances of her boss’ tubby, beardy nephew Olivier (Michel Vocoret). Being a spineless, middleclass kiss-ass, Eric cosies up to his boss and saves face by spreading spiteful gossip about Carole. She escapes to the city where begins her series of erotic adventures.
In his native France, Max Pécas is recognised as the king of trash. From his early black and white B-thrillers, to stylish erotic dramas like Felicia (1975) a.k.a. Men… I Eat Them and Luxure (1976) a.k.a. A Clockwork Nympho, his hit action movie Vice Squad (1984) a.k.a. Brigade des mouers and string of popular teen sex comedies set in Saint-Tropez, Pécas is the dirty little secret of the oh-so-respectable French film industry - scorned by critics, but raking in the francs from thrill-hungry Gallic punters. Where, say, Russ Meyer is lurid and satirical, Pécas is elegant and sensitive. Je suis une nymphomane is refreshingly free of the misogynistic rape fantasies that all too often clog the genre. Carol’s sexual escapades may be tawdry in concept, but happen with her consent and amidst sumptuous production values and an elegant score by Derry Hall that add to an air of hedonistic fantasy.
Voluptuous sex goddess Sandra Julien gives a genuinely torrid performance, with the plot reliant largely on her breathless, yet matter-of-fact and oddly lyrical voiceover: “I was torn between shame and lust, but lust was stronger. And they were so adept. I let them use me for their pleasure and mine.” Phew! Real life husband and wife sexploitation stars Janine Reynaud and Michel Lemoine star as Muriel and Bruno, a bourgeois fantasy vision of “swinging” libertines, each of whom have their wicked way with a willing Carole. Muriel gently seduces Carol with fine dining and soft caresses before their memorably stylized and steamy romp through the A to Z of lesbian sex positions.
Pécas carries the erotic episodes off in high style as characters copulate in silhouette, through kaleidoscopic optical effects and in one ingenious scene, viewed solely through a series of Polaroid photos. He bathes Carole’s boudoir in dreamy pink hues where Sandra Julien supplies this film’s iconic image as she fondles her lithe, naked body before the bedroom mirror. Julien enjoyed a relatively brief career as sex star du jour, but headlined some of the most memorable films in the genre including the erotic horror film Shiver of the Vampires (1970) - whose director Jean Rollin aptly described her as “a beauty with a perfect body” - and a pair of Japanese period sex romps from Toei Films including Tokugawa Sex Ban - Lustful Lord (1972).
Although Pécas and co-scriptwriter Claude Mulet (a prolific sexploitation hand who also wrote and directed the erotic horror film The Blood Rose (1969) and the infamous Pussy Talk (1975) about a girl with a talking vagina!) do not condemn Carole for her desires, they portray nymphomania as a sickness that “bad” people are only to willing to take advantage of. Thereafter, between wandering the streets at night, naked beneath a leather coat picking up strangers for one night stands and unable to keep her hands off a female hitchhiker, Carole tries medical science and religion as possible cures for her ailment. Surprisingly, Pécas avoids any satirical attacks on these institutions. Both the doctor and priest (Yves Vincent) are kind, understanding characters who prove remarkably open-minded and offer sagely counsel. Rather than compound her guilt they try to make Carole feel good about herself.
Initially however, it seems all for nought. In an remarkable sequence of pure pulp poetry, Pécas cross-cuts between Carole’s threesome with a pair of hairy gypsies, her subsequent suicide attempt and her extraordinary dream sequence where all the characters don fancy dress to ride around a carousel. She also writhes around in bed rather like Linda Blair in The Exorcist (1973) complete with concerned priest watching nearby. Until finally fate reunites her with Doctor Michael (Patrick Verde). In a plot twist either deeply conformist or kind of sweet depending on how one interprets it, Pécas and Mulet imply it was love Carole was after all along, since it was the sight of handsome Michael that sent her tumbling down that elevator shaft.
The film drags while Carole goes through a series of tedious medical and psychological examinations, while Verde’s passing resemblance to comedian Will Ferrell induces unintentional hilarity. Pécas does try to have it both ways, revelling in naughtiness while upholding traditional values but it remains pleasing to see Michael build Carole’s self-confidence so she strides through the climactic masked orgy (which may have influenced Stanley Kubrick to include a similar sequence in Eyes Wide Shut (1999)) on her way to domestic bliss. And a happy sex life of course.