Thursday, February 19, 2009
With porcelin white skin, hair cut close to the scalp, volutptous body and undeniable charisma, Annie Belle was quite unlike any other figure in seventies exploitation cinema. Born in France in 1956 as Annie Brilland, Belle proved herself to be one of the most memorable, if often overlooked, screen goddesses of the seventies with a series of varied roles in both French and Italian cinema.
Interviewed in the nineties for the Italian book 99 Donne, Belle recalled that her career began to take shape when she attended the Rue Blanche Acting School in Paris under master Virilo, whom she described as being, “a great cinema and theater actor.” Coming from a family of engineers, acting might have seemed an odd career choice for the young Brilland but she was quite a natural at it, and her manager led her to her first role before she had even turned eighteen, in Jean Rollin’s Bacchanales Sexuelles (Fly Me The French Way) in 1974, where she had a small but memorable role that would endear her to the director who would cast her in her first starring role just a year later.
Billed as Annie Briand in Rollin’s hypnotic and poetic Lips of Blood in
1975, Belle showed herself to be quite a mesmerizing presence and one wonders in hindsight how her career might have gone had she stay in France making movies. Belle relocated to Italy shortly after Lips of Blood though, and within a year she was on her way to becoming for a brief time one of the most in demand actresses in Italian exploitation cinema, with three major films occurring in 1976 alone.
Of the three Italian films Belle appeared in ’76, the erotic Laure is probably the best known thanks to Severin’s recent special edition DVD of it. The film would mark one of a handful Belle shot with actor Al Cliver, the man she would become involved with off screen for several years in the mid to late seventies. Remembering Laure as being, “not very good”, Belle seemed to have better feelings towards Massimo Dallamano’s End of Innocence, a film in which she was granted a co-writing credit on.
Calling Dallamano, “a great professional and talented man”, Belle's great work in End of Innocence is unfortunately hard to see in an English language friendly version, although it is one of the key works of her career.
One of Belle’s most controversial and enduring pictures finished out 1976, and thankfully Brunello Rondi’s audacious Black Emmanuelle, White Emmanuelle (a film that teamed Belle with lovely Laura Gemser) is readily available now in a beautiful uncut print also courtesy of Severin. It would be the first of a few films Belle would shoot with Gemser and in the 99 Donne interview she remembers the iconic beauty very fondly.
Annie Belle continued to work steadily throughout the seventies in both erotic and comedic pictures. In 1980 she appeared in one of the most notorious Italian productions of the period, Ruggero Deodato’s House on The Edge of the Park, a brutal but unforgettable film that Belle remembered as being very, “cruel”, but also very, “interesting.”
Belle would also work a couple of times with legendary Joe D’Amato in the early eighties, a director Belle absolutely adored. Calling him a great director with actors, and going so far to say that he could have indeed been, “one of the greatest filmmakers ever”, had he the right sized budgets and support, it’s a shame Belle and D’Amato weren’t teamed for better films, although there is much to admire in both Absurd (1981) and The Alcove (1984).
Personal problems slowed Annie Belle’s career down in the eighties and by the end of the decade she retired from the screen for good. Returning to France, Belle is now reportedly doing well after going to school to get her degree in Psychology. She currently works in Social Work helping others who have had to battle with personal demons in their lives.
Although she is not often considered one of Jean Rollin’s premiere actresses, this is really because they only worked together twice. Annie Belle is an unforgettable figure and as more of her films become more readily available, the cult around her will only grow.