Viva Maria!(MGM Home Entertainment, 4.5.2005)
Louis Malle's Viva Maria! is a mix of social satire and crass comedy, a bawdy sex romp and an epic revolution, and one hell of a confusing movie. Released in 1965, at the peak of Brigitte Bardot's international success (audiences had already been treated to Plucking the Daisy, ...And God Created Woman, and Le Mepris), the film follows the travails of two showgirls -- both named Maria -- who become figureheads for a peasant after one of them hooks up with a revolutionary. While the premise seems simple enough, Malle and co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere rachet up the drama and comedy in equal measure, making for a thoroughly confounding but nonetheless entertaining ride.
For instance, the film opens with a tale of an Irish girl and her father, a pair of terrorists who battle the British all the way into Central America (yes, you read correctly) and whose tale is told via a particularly investigative song ("what's that in her mouth?" the male singer asks). After her father is killed, young Maria (Bardot) wanders into the camp of a traveling circus, only to witness the suicide of a despondent showgirl. She stows away on board the dead girl's carriage and quickly makes friends with her partner, also named Maria (Jeanne Moreau). Soon the pair are playing to sold-out shows and entertaining men by the country load.
If this series of thematic non sequiturs aren't enough, Bardot's Maria transforms from fighter to lover and begins racking up conquests three at a time. Meanwhile, Moreau's Maria finds a forgotten paramour (George Hamilton), hooks up with him, and then vows to carry on his fight against the villainous Don Rodriguez (Carlos Lopez Moctezuma) after he is shot in the back and killed.
Subsequently, they become revolutionaries themselves and fall into battle with Rodriguez and eventually the Catholic Church for the future of Central Mexico. But, naturally, there's plenty of time for physical humor and enough beautifully articulated shots of Bardot and Moreau to inspire a thousand teen fantasies.
Aside from the sheer eccentricity of Viva Maria!, there aren't a lot of reasons to run out and pick up the film on DVD, even if you only have it on a videotape you dubbed off of television. Aside from a no-doubt first time widescreen presentation, the extras are minimal (multiple language tracks and a theatrical trailer), and the sound mix preserves the original mono (though in Dolby Digital, if that matters).
That said, the movie's weirdness does prove enticing and sustains the viewer's interest -- if only to see what could possibly come next -- throughout its two-hour running time. If you're in the mood for vintage Bardot, pick any of the films listed above (especially Le Mepris; she never looked better) but Viva Maria! is a worthwhile distraction between sex romps and Godard-engineered arthouse entries. -- Todd Gilchrist