Viva Maria!

Louis Malle, 1965

Jeanne Moreau as Maria, Brigitte Bardot as Maria

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Part Five Chapter 9

In an open-air cinema in Kerkyra, in a courtyard in Akadimias, you’re laughing your head off to the foolery in Louis Malle’s Viva Maria! You’re sitting in a group with the whole troop of your summer household: your hosts at their house in Kalami, the Kluge family—Dieter, the father, and his wife Helga; the twins, Jürgen and Ulla, and their sister Veronika; Axel, Ulla’s boyfriend, and Rudi, Veronika’s—and your father and Pascale. It’s three months since Valeria left for Australia. And you too are reaching for distant shores: You’re engaged in a quest to discover through sex the depths of yourself.

In a tavern in San Miguel, somewhere in Central America, a troupe of travelling entertainers performs their vaudeville show. A magician conjures a dove from a scarf; as it flies above the boisterous crowd, a drinker pulls out his pistol and shoots it down. You break into hysterics, just as you do at all the other gags in this motley adventure movie. No-one else laughs as hard as you, but no-one else (except Jürgen, of course) has made love all afternoon: You need to come down from your high. The gags give you the occasion, but release-through-laughter is not all you get from Viva Maria! No, you’re also fascinated by the two Marias, delighting in their complicity while wondering about their different ways of being a woman: Jeanne Moreau holding out for the ideal of love, Brigitte Bardot seizing the day; one opting for wiliness and passivity, the other for forthrightness and risk. And then, too, the film offers you a space to reflect on political violence, so inconsequential in the movie and so bloody and incendiary outside. When the film is over, you don’t ride back to Kalami with Jürgen as you’d come with him to Kerkyra: You are rigourous about keeping your nights separate from your days—that’s part of what makes your experience in Corfu so exciting.