Written by: Michael Den Boer on April 29th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: France, November 22nd, 1965
Director: Louis Malle
Writers: Louis Malle, Jean-Claude Carrière
Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Brigitte Bardot, George Hamilton
DVD released: April 5th, 2005
Approximate running time: 117 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono French
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
DVD Release: MGM
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $14.95
The film opens with a series of shots showing Maria (Brigitte Bardot) her father an Irishman go from country to country committing acts of terrorism. While trying to blow up a bridge her father is killed which leads to her chance encounter with Maria (Jeanne Moreau) who is looking for a new partner for her vaudeville act. Maria’s last partner killed herself. The two Maria’s quickly become friends and their stage show becomes a huge success. Their good fortune soon disappears when Maria (Jeanne Moreau) falls in love with Florès (George Hamilton) a revolutionary and when he dies she decides to continue his work as the two Maria’s lead an armies of peasants against the Mexican government.
Viva Maria’s co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière was a frequent collaborator of Luis Buñuel’s. They worked together on 7 of Buñuel’s final 8 films including Diary of a Chambermaid, That Obscure Object of Desire, Belle de jour and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. In the mid-1960’s Jeanne Moreau and Brigitte Bardot were two of the most recognized actresses in the world. The teaming up of these two silver screen legends would appear to be a no brainier, unfortunately Viva Maria would make the only time Moreau and Bardot would ever star in a film together. Both actresses compliment each others performances as neither ever tries to steal the show. Bardot’s character is then one that gets most of the laughs while Moreau’s character plays it straight. My favorite moment in the films in when the two Maria’s seduce Don Rodriguez as the camera pans by statues and plants making it look like one girl disappears while the other reappears.
Louis Malle carefully composes landscapes and action as he makes full use of Panavision’s wide panoramic frame. Viva Maria’s epic feel is a departure from the type of cinema one would associate with Louis Malle. The first half of the story is more tongue and cheek before the story shifts into a film about revolution. Many westerns from this time period focus on revolutions in Mexico and Viva Maria doesn’t really add much to this subject. The films strongest asset is its clever sense of humor. Viva Maria also lightly dabbles into other more controversial subjects like religion and sex. The only objectionable material in this film that some might find offensive is the montage that opens the films when a young Maria (Brigitte Bardot) helps her father blow up innocents in the name of revolution. Overall Viva Maria is a fun ride that plays with many standards we have come to expect from the western genre.
For this DVD release MGM restores Viva Maria’s full 2.35:1 Panavision frame and they have also given this transfer an anamorphic enhancement for 16×9 televisions. The eye popping colors look vivid and bold through out with natural looking flesh tones. The black levels remain constant and strong as there is an exceptional amount of detail present in every frame. There are no problems with edge enhancement or compression. Overall this transfer is virtually flawless and it looks amazing for a film over forty years old.
This release comes with only one audio option the films original French language track that is presented in a Dolby Digital mono. Overall there are no problems with hiss or distortion and the soundtrack is evenly balanced as everything is easy to hear and follow. English, French and Spanish subtitles that are easy to read and follow have been included.
When it comes to extras MGM has short changed this film including only its original English theatrical trailer which quickly becomes repetitive with its Viva chants. It is a shame considering all the restoration work MGM did for Viva Maria including adding a brand new ending that they drop the ball when it came to adding extra content to this release that could have given the viewer a better understanding of the film and those who made it. Viva Maria is a wonderful epic tale set in the west that stars two of Frances most famous actress and sex symbols which add to this films charm, recommended.