One of the shining examples of a cult film, Barbarella is a heady mix of fun sci-fi and titillating erotica. Starting off with a famous “zero gravity” striptease by Jane Fonda, who plays the main character, this may take a surprisingly familiar, and surprisingly predictable, path but it does so with no small amount of style and humour. Basically, if you’ve seen any other movie from the ’60s or ’70s about a wide-eyed beauty going on a journey that allows her to encounter numerous oddballs as she strives to reach her final destination then you’ve seen Barbarella. You just haven’t seen it in full dress, so to speak.
Fonda is sent on a mission to get to the dastardly Durand-Durand (Milo O’Shea, portraying a character whose name would influence Simon Le Bon and co.) and find out just why he is travelling with a weapon in a galaxy that is now pretty much full of loving pacifists. And that’s really all there is to the plot. This isn’t a film about anything too deep or thought-provoking, it’s a flimsy piece of “make love, not war” inserted into some shiny spacesuits and groovy sets. But it’s also pretty iconic, for all the right reasons.
Camp and ridiculous at times, the film knows exactly how it is playing to viewers and manages to let you know this without seeming too smug or irritating. This is thanks, mainly, to the performances but the designs throughout also help to accentuate the content of the script, and the aesthetics of an entire universe that seems to have grown comfortable with the concepts of comfort and harmony. Whether it’s Ugo Tognazzi being a warm, friendly, and lusty man-bear (or so it would seem, anyway, from his clothing and amount of body hair), John Phillip Law as a beautiful angel, or Barbarella herself, a mix of stunning beauty, innocence without prudishness, and a surprisingly tough core.
Part of me feels bad that it’s taken me this long to see Barbarella and now I am trying to encourage others to see it for themselves, but such is life. There are only so many hours in each day and so many days in each year and on and on and on. None of us will ever watch every movie out there so you just have to hope that you keep enjoying the uphill battle. Which I do. But what should make you place this film ahead of some others on your journey through cinema? I just can’t answer that.
Director Roger Vadim doesn’t seem to bring anything particularly groundbreaking to the table, yet the whole movie is obviously indebted top his eye. The sci-fi elements could be part of a hundred different movies, the gorgeousness of the leading lady can be found in a number of other gorgeous leading ladies, and the sheer sixties vibe of the whole thing, well, that crops up in plenty of films from this era (especially others written by Terry Southern, who helped to work on this script). There’s nothing here that I can point to as something that most people will love. I just found myself reacting to the whole thing in an unexpectedly, overwhelmingly positive way. And I hope others have the same reaction.
Barbarella is screening at 2320 on 18th June at Filmhouse 1 as part of EIFF 2016. It is one of a number of films making up the strand known as POW!!! Live Action Comic Strip Adaptations: The First Generation.
DIRECTOR: ROGER VADIM
WRITER: TERRY SOUTHERN, ROGER VADIM, VITTORIO BONICELLI, CLEMENT BIDDLE WOOD, BRIAN DEGAS, TUDOR GATES, BASED ON THE COMIC BY JEAN-CLAUDE FOREST AND CLAUDE BRULÉ
STARS: JANE FONDA, JOHN PHILLIP LAW, ANITA PALLENBERG, DAVID HEMMINGS, MILO O’SHEA, UGO TOGNAZZI
RUNTIME: 98 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: FRANCE, ITALY