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May 03, 2006

Viva Maria


Louis Malle - 1965
MGM Region 1 DVD

Viva Maria is a reminder of how inconsistent Louis Malle was when evaluating is work. Unlike some of Malle's other films which can withstand critical analysis, Viva Maria is a lightweight entry in Malle's filmography. While certainly better than Crackers, it's almost as if Malle realized he really had nothing to say beyond achieving the task of pairing Brigitte Bardot with Jeanne Moreau. The operative word to describe the film is burlesque, both in subject matter and level of humor.

Taking place in 1907, the intertwining narratives are about two women, both named Maria who are both involved in revolutionary activities, and work together as stage partners and rivals. Maria I, Bardot, is the French speaking daughter of an Irish revolutionary who's career consists of bombing the British wherever they may be. Alone in a fictional Central American country, Maria I stumbles upon Maria II, Moreau, an itinerant stage performer with a small time traveling circus. Bardot accidentally tears her costume on stage, developing a stage act with Moreau that becomes more elaborate as more clothing is shed. The new act becomes the main attraction at bigger venues, becoming progressively more risque.

In this fictional country, the peasants are enslaved by a landowner, Rodriguez, who is in cahoots with the Church. While Bardot has placed her revolutionary activity behind her, Moreau swears to the dying George Hamilton that she will take up his cause to fight against Rodriguez. There is one somewhat funny scene with Bardot and Moreau about to be tortured by priests. The tools of the inquisition have not been used for so long that the tongs and racks fall apart in the hands of the would-be torturers, rusty and rotten after so many years. Most of the humor is heavy-handed with bomb dropping pidgeons and a running gag concerning a young man constantly slapped by his mother. The plot device of a peasants' revolution may be a cliche worth spoofing, but Malle and co-writer Jean-Claude Carriere seem ambivalent about taking viewing it either seriously or as satire. Whatever energy was put into creating the relationship and stage routines of Bardot and Moreau disapates in a lazily thought out narrative. It's as if Malle and Carriere had intended to make some points about love and political action, and lost interest along the way.

The first hour of Viva Maria is fairly entertaining. Bardot is totally gorgeous and Moreau looks the best she ever has on film. With the talent involved, one would expect a better film. After Le Feu Follet, Malle probably wanted to make a something fun and more entertaining. Viva Maria is so light that it easily is blown away by even some of Malle's lesser films.

Posted by peter at May 3, 2006 11:55 AM