Monday, 24 May 2010

Viva Bardot! Viva Moreau! Viva Maria!

Viva Maria! 1965 France
Directed by Louise Malle
MGM (restored epilogue)
DVD Region 2

Wow! What a brilliant and stupid film!

Ok... this is directed by Louis Malle and stars French screen sirens Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau and, if that wasn’t pedigree enough... two of the assistant directors on this brilliant mess of a movie are Juan Luis Buñuel (basically, Luis Buñuel’s son) and Volker Schlöndorff (he who went on to direct some brilliant movies, among them the amazing adaptation of Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum).

This film is just so ludicrous it would not get made today... all the more reason to watch it, say I!

After a series of flashbacks to the late nineteenth century which establish Brigitte Bardot’s childhood as an IRA terrorist who grows into someone who’s very good with explosives and weaponry in general (well... that was obviously perfect casting then) we come to her witnessing her fathers death and blowing up the people responsible as the film catches up to the first years of the twentieth century.

On the run she catches up and ingratiates herself with Jeanne Moreau’s character who is a music hall singer with a travelling music hall show (which is basically half musical revue and half circus). Since both the characters are called Maria, and since Jeanne Moreau’s partner has just committed suicide the two girls form a new musical partnership... but, on their first night performing together, they accidentally invent the striptease! Seriously, I’m not making this up. The two Maria’s take the international circuit by storm, their names adored and loved everywhere. Bardot sleeps with almost every guy she meets, including three guys all at once on the night of her “musical” debut, while Moreau seems to be holding out for someone special. She finds that someone special in the form of a revolutionary leader (played by George Hamilton who is fortunately not in the movie for very long). On his death, the girls and their travelling... well it’s pretty much a travelling circus but without the animals... get mixed up in leading the Mexican revolution and blow up and kill lots of people. The film by this point has turned into the kind of circus/spaghetti western that Gianfranco Parolini used to specialise in.

But the church get worried that their names and images are revered by the people so they kidnap and try to torture the girls under the inquisition. However their torture equipment is all rusty and disused so it keeps falling apart before they can do anything. Then the rest of the company rescues them and all the bad guys get killed... and so the girls go back to stripping (in the restored ending print) and are a massive success. The end.

Seriously... what a blindingly bizarre movie. And frankly, no matter how bad and hammy it gets in places... I could watch Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau squeeze into and out of tight corsets all day.

Outstanding and striking visual images would be the two girls in their fine dresses destructively using a gatling gun (also some iconic publicity stills of them exist doing this but not from the scene which is in the film) and a wonderful sight gag as the company cross the burning desert and come across a skeleton in a ten gallon hat still mounted on a skeleton of his horse. Great stuff.

So... bizarre and campy sixties film filled with some very surreal imagery and blatantly unsubtle camera tricks, two extremely strong and overpowering female characters, a touch of Delerue on the score and lots of shooting and explosions.

Seriously... do I need to write anymore?