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DON JUAN
(Or if Don Juan Were a Woman)

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin, Mathieu Carriere, Lena Gridna, Robert Hossein
Director:  Roger Vadim
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  HVe
Features:  Bonus Trailers
Length:  95 Minutes
Release Date:  November 13, 2001

“Fate has always been like a lover to me.”

Film **

Director Roger Vadim and one-time wife Brigitte Bardot helped coin the term “art house film” in the late 50s and 60s…not so much because their product was considered art, but because they pushed the envelope a little too much for mainstream theatres of the time.  It has been said that young American men wanting a glimpse of the beautiful, bare Bardot actually received their first exposure to international cinema as a result.  Which is very well and good, but…why couldn’t it have been Bergman instead?

Ms. Bardot achieved a kind of Garbo-esque aura by doing the same thing the legendary Swedish actress did…calling a halt to her own career.  1973’s Don Juan (Or if Don Juan Were a Woman), aka Ms. Don Juan, was to be her last feature film before she opted for retirement.  I have read, but cannot confirm, that the years have not been so kind to Ms. Bardot’s once striking beauty…but the world will only remember her as young, vibrant and sexy because of her decision to leave the spotlight when she did.

Though divorced for a number of years, she re-teamed with ex Roger Vadim to make Don Juan, which is a mildly entertaining if somewhat silly picture highlighted by some of Bardot’s most engagingly erotic scenes.  It explores sexuality in ways Vadim became famous for, by giving a female character almost masculine like qualities in terms of appetite and using sex for manipulation and power plays.

It’s fair to say that this film generally lacks the eloquence of Lord Byron’s famed poem, but the point is simply to assign the role of a well-known fictional conquistador to a woman.  Bardot plays Jeanne, a wealthy and beautiful socialite who lives in a gauchely decorated submarine, and spins a confession (of sorts) to a young priest who is also her cousin.  She claims it to be a tale of murder, but we will have to wait for a while to see whether or not it actually is.

In flashback form, we learn of a trio of Jeanne’s power plays.  She seduces a prominent and happily married magistrate, more or less just to prove she could, and ends up both destroying him and making him a sworn enemy.  She moves on to a rather uncouth businessman who treats his pretty young wife rather poorly…she humiliates him by engaging in a lesbian encounter with her.  Finally, there is a young folk musician with haunting eyes and rather terrible songs, who is broken rather quickly by Jeanne.

Vadim’s films are noted for having strong, sexual women at their core, but there is a double standard in how he treats them…it seems obvious that he likes seeing those kinds of characters, but he always feels compelled to give them rather horrific ends.  Think of his segment in Spirits of the Dead and compare Jane Fonda’s story to Bardot’s in this film…both live hedonistic, lustful lifestyles, both use their sexuality as power over men, and both meet fiery deaths as a kind of judgment.  It is alright for women to dominate and control men, it would seem, as long as our last glimpse of them suggests that Hell awaits them for it.

This is neither a bad film nor a good one…it can be called memorable, at least, not only owing to it being Ms. Bardot’s last feature appearance, but because of the rather titillating imagery that I believe will capture most guys’ attention.  Even at the brink of 40, Bardot was still a beauty…clothes on or off.

It’s impossible to judge the picture on any other merits…it really has none.  The story isn’t particularly new or engrossing, the acting doesn’t stretch much beyond the steamier scenes, the characters aren’t interesting for who they are as much as what they do…and that “Don Juan” theme song has to be one of the cheesiest offerings I’ve ever heard.

But at least there’s no false sense of pretentiousness from Vadim…he doesn’t really present the material to be more than what it is, and his own occasional haphazard approach to the movie is indicative of that.  Some scenes are created rather beautifully; others, like when one of Jeanne’s broken ex-lovers wanders through a meat factory with hanging beef corpses everywhere, are a bit clumsy in construction and execution.  

It’s not a picture for everybody…the same can be said of most of the Vadim/Bardot collaborations.  But fans of Ms. Bardot will definitely want to check out the conclusion to her movie career, and her last memorable images on screen.

Video ***

This is a good anamorphic offering from HVe, with plenty of strong color combinations and detailed images making the most of DVD capabilities.  The interior of Jeanne’s sub is a cornucopia of colors, and they play on screen with brightness and integrity…no bleeding to interfere with the compositions.  I noticed no grain throughout, nor any evidence of compression, and the print itself was quite clean.  Some scenes came across a bit softer than others…not terribly so, but noticeably so…but these aren’t distractions.  At other times, the lines are much clearer and more defined, and the visual look comes across much better.  A worthwhile effort.

Audio **

The stereo soundtrack is neither poor nor exemplary…it service the picture fine with French dialogue.  Music comes across well (even if the quality of the songs is questionable), but the limited sound effects and dynamic range make this a fair offering and nothing more.

Features *

There are three trailers for other Bardot films included; HVe’s Plucking the Daisy and The Night Heaven Fell, plus Criterion’s And God Created Woman.

Summary:

Don Juan rides again, but this time, he’s a she, and she looks like Brigitte Bardot.  In her final film, she gives audiences a generous bit of what they’d come to expect from her, teaming with ex Roger Vadim one final time to deliver a flawed but sexy picture.