Saturday, December 27, 2014

Movie review - "Viva Maria" (1965) ***1/2

Neither Jeanne Moreau or Louis Malle were known as Captain Comedy, but this buddy western pastiche is a lot of fun, helped considerably by the casting of Brigitte Bardot in the lead. She plays the daughter of an Irish revolutionary who dies throwing bombs at the British somewhere in South America in the early 20th century; at a loss what to do next Bardot then joins a theatre troupe featuring Moreau and the two of them form a stage act which involves accidentally inventing the strip tease.

The two of them do this for a while, singing cute songs (this movie is kind of a musical), and Bardot discovers the joy of sex (though this is mentioned really more than seen) and it's all very Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when they are captured by dictatorial forces. Moreau falls instantly in love with captured revolutionary George Hamilton (looking handsome and speaking decent enough French in what is a surprisingly small role) and gets politicised - she and Bardot help lead a revolution.

There are some treacherous priests, pompous generals, a fun group of strolling players, plenty of gags. It goes for too long and is misshapen - my attention would waver from time and time. I think it would have helped if say Moreau or Bardot had had some sort of rough goal from the beginning, even if only something like "I must get home" or "I want to be rich"; as it is they sort of just able along until they are thrown in gaol. I felt it could have done with at least one of the support characters fleshed out a bit more, even if just a baddie (there's two good ones, a nasty priest and the dictator, but neither really get much screen time). Maybe Malle's inexperience with comedy let him down here.

However it is full of irreverence and good spirits, not to mention liberated attitude to sex (the lead girls have passions and aren't punished for following them) which help the film age well. Bardot is particularly bright and winning - I preferred her to Moreau who, okay yes was/is a great actor, could seem a little glum. The two stars do have good rapport though and seem to genuinely like each other. It looks great - photography, costumes and production values are top notch.

NB Apparently the film was inspired by the buddy Western Vera Cruz which also inspired the boy buddy gangster flick Borsalino - but the girls got in first.

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