Barbarella ★★★½

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Letterboxd Season Challenge 2017-18
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Week 2: September 11th-17th
Women of Action Week

I had just turned 17 a few days before this sexually charged sci-fi fantasy was released in theaters, but for some odd reason I never got around to seeing it. I do know I had a girlfriend at the time, and she may have dissuaded me from going or perhaps, because it was the middle of high school football season, I just didn't have time. All I know for sure is that it was one of those lost opportunities and now, some 49 years later, I'm finally getting around to seeing in action the first comic book super-heroine of the big screen.

This adaptation by French director Roger Vadim was based upon what was considered to be the first mainstream erotic comic of its kind, the scandalous 1964 graphic novel of the same name by French author Jean-Claude Forest. Vadim cast his wife at the time, Jane Fonda, in the titular role -- a young woman of the 41st century "who travels from planet to planet and has numerous adventures, often involving sex."

The opening credits give us Barbarella slowly removing her spacesuit under weightless conditions till she's wearing only her birthday suit. She then receives a transmission from the President of Earth, Dianthus (Claude Dauphin), sending her to Tau Ceti in the constellation Cetus. Her mission is to return with missing Doctor Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea), inventor of the dangerous Positronic Ray.

When a magnetic disturbance throws her spacecraft off course and interferes with the functioning of her on-board computer Alfie, Barbarella crash lands on the 16th planet of the Tau Ceti region. That's where two creepy twin girls knock her unconscious and take her to Durand Durand's broken spaceship, Alpha 1. The girls and their friends, who are also all twins, then unleash an army of flesh-eating dolls on their captive.

Fortunately, the Catchman Mark Hand (Ugo Tognazzi) comes along, saves her and turns the kiddos over to the government. He tells her she needs to go to the City of Night, Sogo (think SOdom-GOmorrah), to get answers to her questions about the missing doctor. As thanks for his help fixing her vessel, she agrees to make love with him "the old-fashioned way," and it seems to suit her.

This journey soon turns into a real road trip, as she keeps running into obstacles and assistance. The latter includes the blind "angel" Pygar (John Phillip Law), who saves her from a robotic Black Guard and she rewards him with a roll in his nest. There's also the resourceful Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau), who fixes her ship when it breaks again. And the Concierge to the Great Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg) stops her from dying in the Chamber of Final Solutions, only to cage her for their amusement, to be pecked to death by hundreds of birds.

Other characters we meet include the disorganized rebel leader Dildano (David Hemmings), Captain Sun (Serge Marquand), Captain Moon (Véronique Vendell), and the Sinister Sisters (Marina Bartella & Diane Bond). We also learn that the 16th planet has a living lake of liquid positive energy beneath its surface, the Matmos, which provides all of the inhabitants with light, heat and nourishment in return for its "food" -- the negative energy of evil thoughts.

Among the various treats in store for Barbarella are use of hair-curling exaltation-transference pills with Dildano, a hookah lounge where the pipes contain "essence of man," and Durand Durand's deadly Excessive Pleasure machine. It's all pretty silly, but back in the 1960s that was the point -- to stick it to stereotypes, poke fun at authority figures, ignore taboos and flip off notions of relevance. So don't take any of it seriously; just enjoy the ride.

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