Somewhere in Middle America, 1907: Maria II, the daugther of an Irish terrorist, meets after the dead of her father Maria I, the singer of an circus. She decided to stay with the circus. On her debue as a singer, she accidently invented strip-tease, that made the circus famous. But accidently they meet an sozialist revolutionair and finding themselves leading this revolution against the dictaor, the capitalists and the church.
"This will revolutionize showbiz!"
Political unrest and social injustice can often lead to powerful revolutions, but if you want to inspire a truly effective uprising, then all you really need is a pair of alluring French starlets. At least, that's what Louis Malle's satirical comedy, 'Viva Maria,' proposes. And really, who am I to disagree? Packed with silly gags, copious explosions, and two charismatic leads, the film offers an amusing excursion into farcical rebellion, wrapping audiences up in the characters' increasingly elaborate revolt.
Set in the early 1900s, the story follows Maria I (Jeanne Moreau), a singer in a traveling circus, and Maria II (Brigitte Bardot), the daughter of an Irish rebel. When Maria II's father is killed during an attack, she joins Maria I's stage show. Together, the pair accidentally pioneers the striptease, creating a flurry of rabid spectators and admirers. But when Maria I falls in love with a Central American revolutionary (George Hamilton), the two beautiful performers take up arms in a dangerous rebellion. Now charged with leading the uprising, Maria and Maria use their wits, courage, and sensual charm to seek justice.
Throughout the runtime, Malle offers an unashamedly silly series of farcical gags and observations, creating a decidedly goofy air of broad satire. Topics related to political revolution, religion, and genre film tropes are all lampooned to some degree, and while these jokes are rarely particularly biting, the playful humor leads to a few solid (albeit thematically and sometimes tonally erratic) laughs. And joining the plot's heavy emphasis on socialist rebellion, is a focus on an entirely different kind of revolution -- one of the sexual variety.
Together, Jeanne Moreau and Brigitte Bardot make for an irresistible on-screen duo, and though Malle does play up their sexuality for superficial thrills, the two beautiful stars are much more than mere eye-candy. Strong and commanding leads, the protagonists subvert conventional female romance archetypes, taking the spotlight away from the typical male cowboys that might otherwise drive such a story. As Maria I, Moreau is the more level-headed and conservative of the duo, while Bardot's Maria II is more of a free spirit who likes explosions and keeps a running tally of her "conquests." Indeed, though both roles are highly sexualized, the characters remain firmly in control of their seductive and political choices, creating a fairly empowering portrayal of silver screen heroines. Whether undressing on the stage or taking up arms on the battlefield, these woman are not just ogled at or scoffed at -- they are worshipped.
Aside from the undeniable allure of the film's two beautiful stars, the visuals are also aided by a few clever stylistic touches from the director. Malle manages to balance a legitimately effective western aesthetic with a solid eye for comedic timing, playing up gags without dumbing down the movie's cinematography. Stirring wide shots emphasize the striking locations and the script's climactic revolution is filled to the brim with decently choreographed action and explosions.
Scenes set on the stage also feature some potent visual trickery, as Malle uses distinctly cinematic techniques like split screen and montage to enhance the musical performances. Likewise, a key seduction sequence between the stars and the film's villainous dictator is also noteworthy. Through a series of extended takes fixated on moving close-ups and two shots of Maria and Maria circling their prey, the director is able to disorient both the audience and antagonist through a brilliant manipulation of screen space, allowing his leads to gain the upper hand -- all thanks to the very placement and movement of his camera.
Though it might not ever elicit a true cinematic revolution, Louis Malle's 'Viva Maria' is an entertaining and stylistically playful satirical comedy. Some of the humor is a bit uneven and stale, but the film still offers a fun and explosive farce on political and sexual rebellion. Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau both turn in memorable performances and prove to be a decidedly irresistible draw. Seriously, it's hard to ignore the alluring attraction of two strong, beautiful women -- especially when they're armed to the teeth with bullets, explosives, and a winning smile.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino brings 'Viva Maria' to Blu-ray on a single BD-25 disc that comes housed in a keepcase. After some logos and warnings, the disc transitions to a traditional menu screen. The packaging indicates the release is region A coded.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Though occasionally a bit rough, this is a very solid picture that retains an authentic, filmic appearance.
The source print is in pretty good shape, but there are noticeable signs of moderate age and damage visible periodically (particularly early on), including specks, vertical lines, dirt, and scratches. A natural layer of grain is present, adding a pleasing level of texture to the image. While a little on the soft side, clarity is good, offering a decent sense of fine texture in the costumes and locations. With that said, the video does carry a predominantly flat quality that lacks substantial dimension. Colors are relatively punchy, with bright reds, greens, and yellows. For the most part, whites are balanced well, but contrast can be a little inconsistent with slightly elevated black levels that tend to veer more toward gray on one side of the frame.
'Viva Maria' can appear a tad rough and uneven at times, but the majority of the image is very respectful and there are thankfully no signs of digital artifacts or unnecessary processing to report.
The film is presented with a French DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track along with English subtitles. Overall fidelity is limited by the movie's age, but the mix is still quite effective.
Dialogue is relatively clear and full, but the audio does have a slightly strained and hollow quality. As the runtime progresses, effects work gets rather lively, balancing galloping horses, nature ambiance, playful musical numbers, whizzing bullets, and copious explosions well. Compared to modern tracks, dynamic range is definitely on the flat side, but the audio is thankfully free from any notable pops, crackles, or hissing.
While there's nothing to get too excited about here, the audio gets the job done admirably, resulting in a modest yet authentic presentation that offers a decent kick every now and then.
Louis Malle's 'Viva Maria' is an entertaining but slightly uneven cinematic farce full of adventure, rebellion, beauty, and explosions. Led by alluring performances from Jeanne Moreau and Brigitte Bardot, the movie offers a solid helping of laughs and thrills. While the video transfer and audio mixes both show their age, the results are authentic and free from any major technical issues. Sadly, the only supplement we get is a trailer. This might not be among the director's very best work, but the film is certainly amusing and Kino has done a respectable job with this disc. Worth a look.