Color, 1978, 103 mins. 9 secs.
Directed by Just Jaeckin
Starring Dayle Haddon, Gérard Ismaël, Fernando Rey, Yann Babilée, Georges Beller, Ben Simon
Cult Epics (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Zylo (DVD) (France R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

The cinematic hot streak of director The Last Romantic LoverJust Jaeckin seemed unstoppable in the 1970s, with the photographer turned The Last Romantic Loverdirector scoring one of France's biggest hits ever with Emmanuelle and following it up with another major crossover success, Story of O. His English-language, jet-setting look at the real-life Madame Claude didn't fare as well, but it still boasted a stellar cast and sold to most international territories. Unfortunately the same fate didn't await his last solo film of the '70s (and the centerpiece of his seven-feature career), Le Dernier Amant Romantique (or The Last Romantic Lover), which found him reuniting with Madame Claude star and familiar model Dayle Haddon (delivering her finest performance here) as well as his regular composer, pop icon Pierre Bachelet. A visually stunning and surprisingly sweet fairy tale with a welcome dash of surrealism, it did average business in France but barely played U.S. theaters when it was picked up by New Line. Apart from a fleeting run in dubbed form on The Playboy Channel in the early '80s, it's been out of circulation entirely for English-speaking viewers for decades until the much-needed Cult Epics release on Blu-ray and DVD in 2022.

Following the death of their prized lion, the workers at the traveling Star Circus run by the aging Max (Rey) are both despondent and in dire straits. Their tamer and second in command, Pierre (Ismaël, credited as "Gerald Tybalt"), regards Max as a kind of father figure and is flummoxed when his coworkers come up with a plan to raise some cash: enter him in a live TV contest to find the world's "last romantic lover" among eligible men. Sort of a precursor to The Bachelor, The Last Romantic Loverit's the brainchild of glamorous and calculating producer and glamour nudie publisher Elisabeth (Haddon), The Last Romantic Loverwho's in an insubstantial relationship with James (Simon) who feels threatened by the show. The sweet-natured Pierre feels awkward appearing on the show where romantic prowess and physical appearance are all put on public display, and after an unexpected twist at the end of the competition, he gets a unique reward: the chance to spend a a few days with Elisabeth back at his circus. However, the experience doesn't carry the sexual requirements she expects as she finds her perspective upended by a few days in her strange new environment.

Though it boasts a few of his signature intoxicating love scenes, this film shows a more playful and eccentric side of Jaeckin that would continue through some of his remaining work including his last film, Gwendoline. Perhaps responding to claims that his prior films had been excessively fixated exclusively on their female stars, this one really does go for more of a couples audience approach by giving equal opportunity exposure to both genders including a jaw-dropping physique modeling demonstration on TV that has to be seen to be believed. (Haddon in particular seems to enjoy a press conference where she proudly announces the target audience as The Last Romantic Lover"women and gay men.") Fans of European cinema will also enjoy brief appearances by a very young and buff Thierry Lhermitte (who became an international star later in the My The Last Romantic LoverNew Partner films), colorful actor-singer Moustache, and Dalila Di Lazzaro (Flesh for Frankenstein, Phenomena) appearing as herself. Rey is a real joy here as well, giving warmth to the film and making one wish his part was just a bit larger. The Bachelet score is also a major asset here including a whimsical main theme and some great disco-flavored moments; it's no surprise the soundtrack has been something of a cult favorite among collectors and was most recently reworked by French group Bon Entendeur. Being a Jaeckin film it obviously looks incredible, with the colorful circus scenes having a delirious Santa Sangre-style atmosphere courtesy of cinematographer Robert Fraisse (who went on to earn an Oscar nomination for The Lover).

Previously available only on DVD in France without any English-friendly options, The Last Romantic Lover is a real beauty on Blu-ray from a new 4K scan of the camera negative supervised by Fraisse. Presumably the color scheme seen here is correct given that stamp of approval (the reds in this are insane); blacks are deeper and richer than the DVD, and the color scheme is largely similar except for some of the indoor TV studio scenes which now veer away from the heavy blue and purple look seen on that release. Audio options include French LPCM 2.0 mono, DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround with optional The Last Romantic LoverEnglish subtitles (some of which fly by very quickly); the mono mix has always sounded really nice so you're fine going with that, and the 5.1 is still very center-oriented. It's worth noting that this release fills an important missing gap in the Jaeckin filmography on home video, now leaving his later Girls as the only one left out apart from a German DVD release.

A new commentary by The Last Romantic LoverJeremy Richey, author of Sylvia Kristel: From Emmanuelle to Chabrol, is a fine companion to the film as he points out the highlights of the cinematography choices, the significant faces large and small seen throughout, the carnival training required of the actors, the shadow cast by Emmanuelle at this point, and lots more. Jaeckin, who passed away shortly before this disc's release, turns up for an 18m1s interview about the challenges of making films in the wake of his two biggest hits, the inspiration for elements in the story (which wisely ended up switching the genders of its two main characters), and his working relationship with Haddon. Next is a 23m34s interview with the very genial Haddon about her modeling career, her attraction to France, her approach to nude scenes ("It's really not sexy!"), working with the "huggable" Jaeckin, the difficulty of making North Dallas Forty, her current work as a UNICEF ambassador, and her endeavors to help young women and build schools in Africa. Also included are a 1m26s gallery and trailers for Madame Claude, Playing with Fire, Naked over the Fence, Frank & Eva, The Cool Lakes of Death, and A Woman Like Eve.

CULT EPICS (Blu-ray)

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Reviewed on September 22, 2022.