Film Review: The Girl On A Motorcycle (dir by Jack Cardiff)

Who would have guessed that a film from 1968, starring Marianne Faithfull and Alain Delon, would be a little bit pretentious?  I’m as shocked, as anyone.

The Girl On A Motorcycle is Rebecca (Marianne Faithfull), the wife of Raymond (Roger Mutton).  One day, Rebecca wakes up, puts on a black leather jumpsuit, and gets on her motorcycle.  Abandoning her husband and her home, she rides through France and eventually reaches Germany.  Along the way, she thinks about how the motorcycle represents freedom and how no one is truly free unless they’re doing what they want to do.  We hear her inner monologue and it’s hard not to notice that, for someone riding a motorcycle across two countries, she often doesn’t seem to be paying that much attention to the road.  Rebecca has more important things to think about, like free love and Vietnam.  She watches as a transport of soldiers drive past her and she silently tells them not to look at her.  She drives through a city and starts to laugh while shouting “Bastard!” at the top of her lungs.  Pedestrians, all of whom are unhappy and middle-aged, stare at her in shock.

Along the way, Rebecca thinks about her life.  She’s married to Roger, who is a mild-mannered teacher who is so ridiculed by his students that even the local gas station attendant mentions how little respect anyone has for him.  However, Rebecca is haunted by memories of Daniel (Alain Delon), who is very, very French.

How French? This French.

Rebecca first met Daniel while working in her father’s bookstore and they had a passionate affair, despite the fact that Rebecca was already engaged to boring old Raymond.  Daniel even taught her how to ride a motorcycle.  When Rebecca got married, Daniel sent her the motorcycle that she is now riding as a wedding gift.  Rebecca is racing through Germany to be reunited Daniel, though it’s never quite clear if she’s truly leaving her husband or if she just wants to have a quick tryst before returning home.  Will Rebecca make it or will the unpredictable whims of fate intervene?

The Girl on a Motorcycle was directed by Jack Cardiff, a veteran cinematographer who first found acclaim working with directors like Michael Powell, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Huston.  Not surprisingly, the film is full of striking shots.  Unfortunately, Cardiff was 54 when he directed The Girl On A Motorcycle and he had been involved in the film industry since he was a child.  Watching the film, one gets the feeling that Cardiff was trying a bit too had to appeal to a young counterculture audience that he didn’t really have much of a natural affinity for.  As such, Cardiff drags out every psychedelic trick in the book.  Do you want excessive use of the zoom lens, ludicrously skewed camera angles, pointlessly surreal flashbacks, portentous narration, extreme close-ups, retina-burning solarization effects, and an ending that feels like it was stolen from Godard?  The Girl On A Motorcycle has all of them!  For every impressive shot of Rebecca riding on her motorcycle, there are several more shots that feel as if they were filmed in migrainevision.

There’s also quite a few shots that make remarkably poor use of rear projection.

The Girl On A Motorcycle is definitely a film of its time.  To give credit where credit is due, Alain Delon is handsome and charismatic as the enigmatic Daniel.  The viewer gets the feeling that Rebecca is probably idealizing him and assuming that he has more depth than he actually does but it’s still easy to understand why she would not be able to resist the temptation.  Marianne Faithfull seems a bit lost as Rebecca.  She smiles a lot and she laughs a lot but her inner monologue is flatly delivered and, as a result, the character comes across as being vapid.  The ideal Rebecca probably would have been a young Helen Mirren.

As it is, The Girl On A Motorcycle is a time capsule of the 60s aesthetic (albeit an aesthetic translated through the lens of a director who seems to be trying too hard to remain relevant).  Due to a few flashes of nudity and some sex scenes that are so psychedelic that they’re nearly impossible to watch, Girl On A Motorcycle was the first film to be slapped with an X rating in the United States.  It seems rather tame today.

One response to “Film Review: The Girl On A Motorcycle (dir by Jack Cardiff)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 5/15/23 — 5/21/23 | Through the Shattered Lens

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