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Cable TV addicts have been subjected to a plethora of poorly produced "erotica" movies and series over the past three decades, the sort of crap associated with the derisive term "Skinemax". Lost in this shuffle is a French movie THELMA, goofier than most but barely seen by American eyeballs.
I have the late Video Search of Miami to thank for this DVD edition, one of hundreds of obscurities they unearthed before changing tastes and video streaming ended their run.
The French production was shot in South Africa, with attractive locations and a true novelty of having the story SET in South Africa too. Its story is pure cornball Americana -you know the one about the hapless hero who returns to his hometown in the sticks after serving a prison sentence for a crime of passion, and runs into all the old headaches. BUS RILEY's BACK IN TOWN by William Inge comes to mind.
Kevin Smith stars as the unlucky protagonist, returning home to find Thelma (German beauty Anja Kruse), the girl he had sacrificed everything for, is now married to a wealthy creep Drummond Marais. (NOTE: This isn't the American droll director-actor of CLERKS, but is rather an unsuccessful mulatto actor who through the magic of show biz later popped up in one of the FROM DUSK TILL DAWN quickie sequels.)
Picture uses a rather clumsy bait & switch technique, in that Kruse acts and dresses very, very sexy, but does not deliver real skin or simulated sex scenes until a flash of breast near the end of the film. Instead, we have young beauty Gwenaelle Simon going full-frontal at the drop of a hat, making love to our hero, though he can't get Thelma off his mind.
Melodramatic plot unfolds in idiotic and clichéd fashion, leading to tragedy. Many scenes reminded me of U.S.-made campy erotica of the period, most notably TWO MOON JUNCTION by Zalman King. Funniest and silliest Kruse scene, worthy of Midnight Movie showings, is when she visits the garage where Smith works and covers herself with motor oil to make herself dirty for him. She feels herself up sexily but our stalwart hero resists her wiles, and slaps her. But next second he goes down on her - proof positive that this film was aimed (perhaps only subconsciously) for a female audience after all.
I once thought about writing a history of fake South African cinema, having sat through literally dozens of Apartheid-era clunkers pretending to be Hollywood productions starring hard-up actors like Oliver Reed, Bo Svenson, Robert Vaughn, Wings Hauser and Michael Dudikoff (these are where the fine character actor Arnold Vosloo cut his teeth). A veteran of these actioners Ian Yule pops up as Simon's dad.
IMDb lists seven titles in the umbrella DARK DESIRES series, one of which re-teamed director Jean-Louis Daniel and star Kruse. I wouldn't mind sitting through the other half dozen, but then I'm a card-carrying movie masochist.
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