Barbarella

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Sometimes films are famous way our of proportion with their merits, sometimes they're much more important than they are good, and sometimes really bad films are tremendous fun. Barbarella ticks all three of these boxes. Though Jane Fonda regretted starring in it, especially as she missed out on important roles to do so, there's no doubt that it made her name. Through its cult status, it also promises her immortality.

Fonda plays the eponymous heroine, an astronaut sent by the President of Earth to track down missing scientist Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea) who is in possession of dangerous military knowledge. Her zero gravity striptease in the opening sequence, more artfully shot than you might expect, sets the tone for what is to follow. Though we're soon planet-bound, the film has zero gravity throughout, but as none of the cast take it terribly seriously that isn't a problem. Fonda's resolutely straight-faced performance makes Barbarella a character who can charm you with more than just her physical assets.

Fifties film versions of pulp science fiction classics were often notable for taking out the sex. In the true spirit of the Sixties, Barbarella puts it all back in, playing out as a series of curiously coy soft porn scenes with dialogue of the quality you'd expect from that genre. Just as frequent and as weakly connected to the plot are the costume changes that pay tribute to every scantily clad comic book heroine of the preceding two decades. Then there are the stock characters, from the fur-clad trapper to the angel who has forgotten to fly, the ragged revolutionary and the stroppy, bisexual tyrant. Their awkwardly linked scenes are carried along by an insipid lounge music soundtrack that often provides unintended hilarity.

Its cardboard sets lit in a variety of pulsing colours, with swirling designs and lots of fog and bubbles, Barbarella is a delightfully kitsch piece of psychedelia: Roger Vadim had more to show off than his then wife. It's a film full of promise that cheerfully fails to live up to it, much like the fabled orgasm machine that will eventually challenge its heroine. Emblematic of a freewheeling, free love culture that never really existed, it's a true camp classic, a unique amalgamation of pulp themes and a pseudo-historical treasure.

Reviewed on: 14 Apr 2012
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Cult sci-fi sees a sexy space agent hunt down an evil scientitst.
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Director: Roger Vadim

Writer: Jean-Claude Forest, Claude Brulé, Terry Southern, Roger Vadim, Vittorio Bonicelli, Clement Biddle Wood, Brian Degas, Tudor Gates

Starring: Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, Marcel Marceau, Claude Dauphin, Véronique Vendell, Giancarlo Cobelli, Serge Marquand, Nino Musco, Franco Gulà, Catherine Chevallier, Marie Therese Chevallier, Umberto Di Grazia, David Hemmings

Year: 1968

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: France, Italy

Festivals:

Sci-Fi 2010

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