Synopsis: When her husband is found standing over the body of a murdered dance instructor, Brigitte Bardot goes undercover to find the real killer and is drawn into a shady Parisian underworld of blackmail, transvestites and mambo lessons. Dawn Addams and Serge Gainsbourg co-star in this delightful combination of comedy, mystery and suspense that Bardot fans consider one of the most unique films of her career.
I don’t know why some films grab you even though you should know better, but some do. Sometimes it’s for nostalgic reasons: the film is a cherished memory because it was first seen during a fond moment in time and/or period of one’s life. Sometimes, however, it’s completely inexplicable: from a purely objective standpoint, it’s a meagre offering on all possible levels. And yet, you can’t help but love it.
Such is my impression of ‘Voulez-vous danser avec moi?’.
I originally picked this up many years ago, my curiosity piqued in an indecipherable way, despite starring Brigitte Bardot – whom I had seen at least once before in ‘Le mépris’ and loathed. I immediately adored the film and proceeded to introduce it to a friend, who also quite enjoyed it; there’s just something infectious in the vibe and the lightness of it that we were susceptible to.
And yet, I can’t help but recognize that it’s a fluff piece. The acting is, at best, average and convincing enough, but it’s frequently of sitcom calibre. And the mystery itself is nothing that a 30-minute television programme or a young teen novel/comic book couldn’t have handled equally well. It’s of a ‘Murder She Wrote’ variety: short on actual tension and not exactly inscrutable.
Even the technical proficiency of the film is lacking. A breezy film such as this one shouldn’t have editing issues, but scenes step on each other’s toes with a noticeable regularity. Even the production values are weak, with sets designed on the cheap. One only has to look at the conspicuous painting of the purported culprit to see how inadequately skilled the crew was.
And yet, it has that European flair that I find quite entrancing; that vibe is something that simply can’t be fond in North American productions. Aside from this, there’s also a very clear difference between this and its British and American peers: the values that its characters ascribe to.
For starters, there’s a sense that fidelity and morality are not one and the same, that societal expectations are different there from what we know here. Let’s just say that there’s a much more relaxed attitude about sex in and out of marriage.
As well, it’s amazing to see how progressive they were in portraying gay men on screen – it was, after all, only 1959! I can’t fathom as much spotlight being put on sexual multiplicity in a North American film of that era – let alone one that featured a star of Bardot’s pedigree.
Speaking of Bardot, I don’t actually understand her appeal: she doesn’t have the natural sexiness that Marilyn Monroe had, that’s for sure. In my estimation, she’s only a gamine pretending to be woman. And she’s not much of an actress, either. Oh, sure, Marilyn, wasn’t always terrific either, but she had that certain something that compensated for it and is lacking here (even the film’s short nod to Monroe’s iconic ventilation duct scene lacked sexiness. Although I suspect that the filmmakers’ intention was to thumb their noses at it…).
There is the intriguing addition of Serge Gainsbourg to the mix, however (trivia: years later, he would have a love affair with Bardot). He’s not much of an actor, but he has a presence that is undeniable – even in this particularly subdued performance. If I didn’t already know of him, I would be curious to discover more about this character – he stands out in a most peculiar way, without perceptible charm or good looks.
Similarly, ‘Voulez-vous danser avec moi?’ is about anything other than looks. At first glance, it should easily be written off as inconsequential, perhaps even a waste of time – and yet there’s something enchanting about it that makes it much more enjoyable than it has any right to be.
Like a light, playful dance, it has a quality about it that simply can’t be described with mere words; it has to be seen to be understood. And, while I suspect that it wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a good time, I would certainly recommend at least giving this one a spin around the dance floor the one time just for kicks.
Nota bene: from a personal standpoint, I would give this film an 8.0, but I decided to dock the rating slightly in consideration of the fact that it is a flawed gem and that the average person would likely not think of it as highly.