*** WARNING/SPOILER ALERT ***
The following post discusses a film which contains several scenes of simulated physical and/or sexual abuse, some of which involve a minor. While no images of such abuse are included and I have made an effort to be as tactful as possible when discussing such scenes, sensitive readers are urged to proceed with caution. Naturally the discussion of certain scenes necessarily involves some spoilers.
Where’s the line between art and exploitation? What if a film arguably has elements of both? Can the artistic elements redeem the exploitative ones? Such are questions posed by the 1980 film Emanuelle Queen of Sados (alternatively known as Emanuelle’s Daughter or I Mavri Emmanouella, among other titles; here I have used the on-screen title for the English language version. The U.S. DVD cover titles it Emanuelle’s Daughter: Queen of Sados, which is how it is listed in Pigtails’ Pipeline).
Directed by Ilias Milonakos, this Greek/Cypriot production is an not-quite-official entry in the the long-running Emanuelle series staring Laura Gemser—itself an offshoot of the Sylvia Krystal series. Probably due to Gemser’s involvement, this is one of the better-known Greek exports. Like the other entries in the series, Emanuelle Queen of Sados features simulated sex and violence, and co-stars Gemser’s real-life husband Gabrielle Tinti, here playing her love interest Tommy. Harris Stevens plays the main antagonist, Mario. However, what makes this particular film relevant to the site is the young actress Livia Russo, debuting in her first film. Very little is known about her, particularly her exact age at the time of filming, and this appears to be her only screen appearance¹.
The overall plot of the film—a crime drama—involves Emanuelle’s problems after hiring a hitman, Mario, to kill her long-abusive husband, Victor. After the deed is done—being ruled an accidental death by the police—she becomes guardian of her minor stepdaughter, Livia, and executor of her inheritance until Livia is of age—Victor having left everything to his daughter in his will. However, the hitman pursues the pair from Athens to Cyprus wanting the rest of his pay, and her husband’s associates suspect his death was no accident. Eventually things come to a head in a violent manner.
While Emanuelle is the main character, Livia is central to the plot and what happens to her determines the final outcome, so the scenes detailed below focus only on her part of the story, and just the highlights at that.
We first see Livia (other than in a brief flashback) when Emanuelle drives with her to the airport to board a plane for Cyprus, as Victor has his business and an estate there. Initially, they don’t get along, as Emanuelle is only interested in Livia as a means of accessing her late husband’s fortune, and bosses her around—perhaps because Livia is a reminder of the hated Victor.
Unfortunately, someone else becomes interested in Livia: Mario. On board the plane, he briefly flirts with Livia before Emanuelle realizes he’s there. Livia doesn’t think anything of it; Emanuelle, however, is disturbed, knowing he is dangerous.
At a hotel, while Livia showers, Emanuelle explains her feelings about the deceased Victor, having married him only to escape a life of poverty. While Livia did not think highly of her father either—having seen some of the abuse he directed toward Emanuelle (shown in flashbacks)—she doesn’t think Emanuelle is any better. Of course, she doesn’t know Emanuelle is responsible for his death.
That night at a disco, Livia meets a nice young man named Mike, and a sweet romance blossoms. Like Livia, Mike is played by a novice actor, Vagelis Vartan. Their romance is one of the best elements of the film.
But Mario turns up again not long after, creepily complementing Livia on her youth and beauty before Emanuelle intervenes. Livia naively thinks he is merely being friendly, and doesn’t understand why Emanuelle doesn’t want her to see him again, since Emanuelle can’t reveal that she know Mario.
Arriving at Victor’s estate, Emanuelle and Livia fight over photos of Victor—which Emanuelle wants thrown away—and when Livia objects to their removal because he was still her father, Emanuelle slaps her and demands Livia obey her, causing Livia to run outside crying.
However, things look up for Livia when Mike arrives to take her to the beach, where they get to known each other better. Initially in swimsuits, when they are alone they strip and admire each other, but otherwise things stay pretty tame between them².
Afterwards, Emanuelle expresses her approval of Mike to Livia, inviting him over, and Emanuelle and Livia becomes friends. In addition to visiting the estate, Mike is also invited along on a tour of various Cypriot landmarks (while at the estate, we see that Emanuelle has restored Victor’s photos to their place, in a concession to Livia’s feelings—a nice touch showing that Emanuelle is beginning to care about her stepdaughter as a person).
But when Mike and Livia visit the Tomb of the Kings by themselves, and the two become separated, things take a very dark turn.
Out of nowhere, Mario appears, grabbing Livia. When Mike approaches, Mario hits him and knocks him unconscious, which gives Livia a chance to run away. However, Mario soon catches her on a secluded stretch of beach, and after a brief struggle, he selfishly rapes her in a harrowing scene which spares almost no details³.
I must caution, this is a very difficult scene to watch, and it may be too much for some viewers. Because of the nature of the scene, I have not included a screenshot.
Afterwards, Livia and Mike return to Victor’s estate, where they tell everyone what happened. Emanuelle comforts Livia before going to confront Mario for what he did—having come to care about her stepchild. That confrontation brings the film to its finale.
Of course, there are many scenes involving the other characters which I have left out here, such as Emanuelle’s romance with Tommy or the actions of Victor’s associates to investigate his murder. I also had to leave out many nice scenes of the Cypriot landscape and landmarks which add to the film’s appeal, but which didn’t affect Livia’s portion of the plot enough to justify showing them as screenshots. The music and cinematography are good.
That the film features ample sex and violence is not of itself surprising, given it is an Emanuelle movie and that such is typical fare for Gemser even in her non-Emanuelle flicks; however, the inclusion of a young minor girl—whatever her specific age—in such a film and including several nude scenes and particularly the rape scene raises some questions, though not one you might expect.
For those wondering about the legal aspect, I’ll point out that the film was shown theatrically in a wide number of countries in the ’80s, including the U.S.—for instance at the Budco Midtown Theatre 2 in Philadelphia in 1982, now the Philadelphia Film Center —then made the jump to VHS and eventually DVD, often uncut. It’s still widely available to view for free on the internet, a link of good-resolution and a complete version. An uncut, English-language DVD was released in the U.S. in 2005 and sold on Amazon and other major outlets, and the film was shown as part of an Emanuelle film festival at Quad Cinema in New York in 2019. So potential concerns along those lines are groundless. Perhaps it can simply be chalked up to the fact that despite her appearance, with no birth certificate her age at the time of filming can’t be pinned down.
As to the director’s thinking in casting Livia for the role, it can’t be known for certain as he doesn’t do interviews about his work, but we can speculate based on what else was being released at the time. During the late ’70s and early ’80s a number of controversial films featuring minor girls were made, such as Immorality , Little Lips and Pretty Baby—with the aforementioned titles debuting before Emanuelle Queen of Sados was filmed. Since the director has, to my knowledge, never before or since cast such a young actress in one of his erotic films, he may have simply been trying to imitate certain elements (i.e. youthful nudity) from those movies in hopes of attracting audiences. Also, it’s rumored that Livia was suggested for the role by a relative working on the production, and after auditioning her perhaps the director felt she was too good to pass up. Plot-wise, it was not necessary to cast an actual minor for the role; he could have selected a young woman of age eighteen or so and stated her character’s age as a few years younger in the film. Possibly he felt using an actual minor would make the film seem more authentic, but we’ll likely never know.
In conclusion, while there are elements of the film that I would prefer to have seen done differently, I believe the film merits a look, to see the performances of Livia Russo and Vagelis Vartan as well as that of some of the other cast (while Mario as a character is despicable, Harris Stevens does play the role well). Despite some of the dark things that happen in the film, there are enough pleasant scenes to keep the film from being depressing. It’s a shame that neither Russo or Vartan appear to have done any other films.
¹Various dates of birth are cited online, giving August 11th as the month and day and listing 1966, 1965 or in one instance 1963 at the year, making her anywhere from twelve to fifteen at the time the film was shot (1979). While I can’t prove which, if any, of these are correct, suffice it to say I do have solid evidence that fifteen is probably the upper limit for how old she could have been. As for the character Livia is playing—also named Livia—no age is specified in the film, other than the fact that she’s too young to control her father’s fortune and requires a guardian.
²While the scene does end kind of ambiguously, with Livia and Mike appearing to either sit or lie down, this is the kind of film where if the characters did have sex it would definitely be shown. So I infer they did not, and believe the director intended the audience to understand that Livia remains chaste until a later scene, where that sex takes place is unequivocal—and unfortunate.
³Which I have omitted to avoid making this post too graphic, though to be clear, it’s just acting. Not even Gemser and Tinti, who were married in real life, actually had sex on screen. Nevertheless, some may find it uncomfortably realistic, as no body double is substituted for Livia, but it’s clearly her throughout. Plot-wise, the scene does follow from what was built up before, sad though it is. However, one could question whether it was necessary to film the scene quite so explicitly.
(NOTE TO COMMENTERS: While I appreciate comments on the post, I would prefer that they not focus on the rape scene. While it is perhaps understandable that people would want to comment on it, I would rather you did not unless you have something of significance to add beyond the obvious. There are other areas of the film to discuss.)