Review: Barbarella (1968)


Sexual repression, or sexual expression, you decide!

Screenplay By: Terry Southern & Roger Vadim
Directed By: Roger Vadim

The first ten minutes or so of Barbarella spell out every intention of the movie. The battle between free sex and controlled sex, being able to express yourself freely, Communism versus capitalism, war versus peace, and so on. Those first ten minutes also spend ample time with the camera ogling the either naked or nearly naked body of Jane Fonda. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie that lays all its cards on the table as quickly and succinctly as Barbarella does. There’s no tricks up Roger Vadim’s sleeves, and that is both freeing and the downfall of the film.

It’s enjoyable, for a while, to spend time with a film that is as plain in its intentions as they come. Barbarella never shifts gears, it never changes course, it stays true to those first ten minutes throughout. After about forty five minutes that approach begins to wear thin. Because Barbarella wears its every breath on its sleeve there are no new mysteries to discover as the film progresses. The character of Barbarella will wear skimpy clothing, or no clothing at all. She will get involved in situations wear she has sex, possibly orgasms, and deals with lots of devices that are sexually evocative. The title character will be caught by the supposed bad guys, again, and again, and again. There will be lots of attempts at off the wall humor, and ultimately the film won’t do much with its science fiction ideas. The film repeats itself so much that it becomes tiresome, and a movie about a barely clothed hippie should not be tiresome.

The area of Barbarella that interested me the most were the sexual politics of the film. There’s not a whole lot of depth to the sexual politics of Barbarella, both the film and character, and I’m pretty sure this is me creating politics where they might not even exist. Either way, I found the dynamic between Barbarella and the Great Tyrant to be most interesting. They are, for all intents and purposes, the same character. Both are overly sexual, and want to express themselves sexually. The only difference is in how the film treats the two characters. The viewpoint of the film rewards Barbarella for her sexuality, while denigrating Tyrant for her sexual proclivities. I’m not really sure what the film is saying about sex in that regard, but I don’t think this is a case of the film being ambiguously interesting. Rather, Monsieur Vadim isn’t a talented enough director to present a sexual dynamic as anything other than good versus evil, even if the two characters are the same.

It has a large cult following, but I wasn’t a big fan of Barbarella. It sure as heck tries, and I can see why some people would really dig the production. I enjoyed some moments during the film, especially the trippy visuals that pop up from time to time. On the whole Barbarella felt infantile and not nearly as provocative as it would like t think. Once Miss Fonda puts her clothes back on the first time there’s really not much more reason to keep watching Barbarella, even if the film obviously disagrees.




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