[Film Review] Barbarella (1968)

Barbarella poster

Title: Barbarella
Year: 1968
Country: France, Italy
Language: English
Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Comedy
Director: Roger Vadim
Jean-Claude Forest
Claude Brulé
Terry Southern
Roger Vadim
Vittorio Bonicelli
Clement Biddle Wood
Brian Degas
Tudor Gates
Music: Charles Fox
Cinematography: Claude Renoir
Jane Fonda
John Phillip Law
David Hemmings
Anita Pallenberg
Milo O’Shea
Marcel Marceau
Ugo Tognazzi
Claude Dauphin
Rating: 6.1/10

Barbarella 1968

In 1968, cinema history was graced by the birth of an indubitable Sci-Fi classic, Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, a visionary groundbreaker, while on the other end of genre’s gamut, we also witnessed this French-Italian sexploitation adaptation of the racy French Sci-Fi comic strip. BARBARELLA, a French-Italian co-production, directed by Frenchman Roger Vadim and starring his then-wife Jane Fonda as the titular heroine, presented in an unspecified future, it is as outlandishly lavish of its setting, as goofily puerile of its barebones story.

The opening gambit introduces Barbarella, an earth astronaut, strips herself from her space suit inside under the zero-gravity environment, against Seurat’s famous pointillist painting, a pastiche of high art and low pleasure to pander to audience’s sensoria rams home immediately. Barbarella is sent to a galaxy far far away to look for an earthling named Durand Durand, an inventor of a deadly weapon which the President of Earth (Dauphin) thinks might fall into wrong hands.

Her adventure consists of a nexus of chance encounters with various characters on the 16th planet of Tau Ceti, as a hapless and somewhat dimwit, but perennially spirited damsel-in-distress, saving from the assault of creepy dolls with razor-sharp teeth controlled by evil kids by the hirsute Catchman Mark Hand (Tognazzi), she consents to Mark’s love-making proposal, not the pill-inducing high-tech consummation, but the old-fashioned way, which turns out to be quite toothsome, please, suspend your disbelief! Further on, she meets a blind angel Pygar (Law) who has lost the will to fly, Professor Ping (French mime icon, Marcel Marceau), an outcast living in a slipshod labyrinth, the leader of the resistance Dildano (Hemmings), the Great Tyrant and Black Queen of Sogo (Pallenberg), and her devilish concierge (O’Shea),

Barbarella uses sex as a means to express her gratitude, Mark aside, she cannot keep her hands off the Adonis-like Pygar and through sex, she endows him the renewed strength of flying, and with Dildano, their coiffure-remodelling palm sex is so otherworldly steamy that it stuns an awkward bystander. The only savior she doesn’t reciprocate in putting out is the one-eyed wench, the Great Tyrant in disguise, although lesbianism is explicitly hinted (the Tyrant keeps referring her as “Pretty Pretty”) to tease out the male gaze. In the main, sex is Barbarella’s strongest suit, in a crashingly bawdy episode, her unquenchable sexual drive can even render the infamous orgasm killing machine overload, in a way, sex becomes her lethal weapon eventually, which prefigures a forthcoming era of sex liberation.

Mario Garbuglia’s production design is as outré as one can imagine, along with Fonda’s wardrobe showcase, while the film’s rough-hewn special effect inevitably looks like a child’s play, but together they confer a retro, varicolored splendor to today’s spectators in the face of the props’ overtly tacky tangibility. The plot is the film’s underbelly, a rushed ending is atrociously wheeled out, but Fonda, in her most gratuitously sexed-up endeavor, delivers an open-faced seriousness and immediacy, she really cares to find out Durand Durand! However barmy it seems, at any rate, BARBARELLA doesn’t shortchange its source material, a low-brow cartoon wallows in its high kitschy style with admirable candor, aka, the spirit of space camp!

Oscar 1968  Barbarella


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