Face value: Both Rolls Royce Baby and Jess Franco's Cecilia look like they might have been cut from the same cloth coming from (or inspired by) the internationally-successful Emmanuelle trilogy of erotic films. Structurally, all of these films share a very basic similarity, which is that they feature the exploits of the sexual-adventures of a female protagonist as portrayed in an energetic vignette-style plotting, taking us from sexual escapade to sexual escapade, usually with a single through-line based on the changing morals or personal discovery of said protagonist. But, as I first discovered both of these Jess Franco films in the last couple of months, there is no hiding that there are drastic and fundamental differences between the two Franco erotic-cinematic offerings. The first and most notable is that Jess Franco did not even direct Rolls Royce Baby, which starred his wife Lina Romay in the leading and titular role, as an experimental and adventurous nymph who is a photographic model-by-day; yet it was Franco himself who is rumored to have really directed many of the scenes within the film, which was directed by collaborator Erwin C. Dietrich. Rolls Royce Baby was more of a direct and immediate cinematic-response to Emmanuelle than the seven-years-later Cecilia, and Rolls Royce Baby shows the considerably more fun side of those erotic films. Also, Rolls Royce Baby does go into some full hardcore scenes, yet everything is consistently kept light and comedic, and it's overtly more interested in maintaining the voyeuristic aspect as an engaging plot characteristic as opposed to the character depth offered in Cecilia.
So, conversely then, Cecilia, which was made by Franco seven years later in 1982 for the Eurocine film company, is a much more serious affair, delving into the character's motivations and sexuality and even their insecurities as motivations for their sexual escapades. This film concerns a well-to-do housewife who finds a sexual reawakening after engaging in a somewhat uncomfortable threesome with her next-door-neighbour brothers. It's quickly revealed that the action that took place was actually a story she was relaying to her husband, with the confession that she found him even more sexually attractive after the incident; which leads them on a journey of sexual exploration through different partners. Played up with the aforementioned more serious tone, Cecilia as a piece of erotic cinema is nevertheless far more successful than the more cutesy-poo Rolls Royce Baby; and, in my opinion, even more successful than Emmanuelle. There are two reasons that struck me with this conclusion as I watched what I'm gladly willing to call Jess Franco's erotic masterpiece: the first is the previously-uncharted depths that Franco, as an erotic filmmaker, was willing to plunge into in so many aspects of the story – the characters, the photography and locations (the locations are just as striking as those used for the backdrops of his films She Killed in Ecstasy, How to Seduce a Virgin, and Countess Perverse), and the ramifications of the characters' actions in the story. The second most striking thing about Franco's Cecilia is how closely the photography and the plot resembles the amazing work of Franco's favourite erotic artist, the late Guido Crepax (whom incidentally created his own graphic-novel adaptation of the character of Emmanuelle and one of Jess Franco's other explored subjects, Venus in Furs). To watch Cecilia is to experience, as a viewer, the most cinematic and literal insight into Franco's own inspirations (of Crepax's works). As erotic slices of the cinematic world, both Cecilia and Rolls Royce Baby are very successful, although each maintains its own personality – and to be fair (or at least to clarify some production information), each of these films was produced in a different decade and close to ten years apart. But while both films succeed in the erotic-film arena, it's Cecilia that really knocks it out of the park as Jess Franco held his artistic inspirations firmly throughout the film and managed to deliver it with confidence, creating sexually-charge surreal set-pieces while expertly maintaining an engaging and believable down-to-earth framework.