Review: Bolero (1984)

I do not normally try to summarize movies on this site, but Bolero’s plot is so utterly bonkers that it demands explanation. So here it goes. Bo Derek’s character, Ayre, graduates from college and does what any young woman does after school: she hunts for some virile Mediterranean man to take her virginity. She first travels to Morocco, and offers herself to the sheik. But when the fated night arrives, after rubbing honey over her body in foreplay, the sheik falls asleep because he took too many hits of the hookah. Her plans frustrated, Ayre then travels to Spain to find another man to deflower her. Her sights align on a bullfighter, and after some very awkward courtship, Ayre finally gets deflowered. But then tragedy strikes: a bull gores her bullfighter right on his manhood, and he can no longer get it up. The bullfighter feels sad and Ayre tries to convince him she still loves him. Eventually, through the sheer force of the sexiness of Bo Derek’s body, the bullfighter’s gored dick comes back to life. Bo Derek’s oiled body, it appears, is better than Viagra. A final scene of love-making ensues as the couple is transported to a steam-filled vista with a neon “Extasy” sign in the background. In the final scene, Ayre and her bullfighter get married. Bolero is a classic girl throws herself at boy, boy falls asleep, girl throws herself at another boy, boy gets gored in the nuts, girl restores boy’s manhood, boy and girl make love and get married story.

As you can see, Bolero is something special. Entire dissertations could be written about this movie. Bolero is indeed an exploitation flick that borders on softcore pornography, but it has ambitions that make it more than just simple trash. Like many other Cannon films, Bolero seems to have been filmed on the assumption that it would be embraced and praised by the film community as an important work despite having zero redeeming qualities. This makes Bolero into something special in the current era of self-aware and cynical B-movies like Sharknado: a terrible movie with ambitions that is wholly unaware of its terribleness. The movie’s craving for validation can best be seen in Ayre’s first attempt at seduction with the sheik. Her courtship (and honey-assisted foreplay) with the sheik is interspersed with frames of text invoking silent films. Like everything about this movie, this device fails to connect in any meaningful way, but it shows that the writers aspired to art film pretensions. I am also convinced that the final two-thirds of the movie involving the impotent bullfighter is some weird refraction of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. It is as if the writers skimmed a summary of Hemingway’s classic, and only took away the terms “bullfighting” and “impotence.” The movie inadvertently, and in a completely tone-deaf way, seems to comment on the malaise of the roaring twenties by showing a clueless rich asshole trying to fuck her way across the Mediterranean.

At first I didn’t think Bo Derek’s acting is as bad as some make it out to be. Some of her worse lines are not necessarily her fault, and if you squint hard enough, her lack of talent almost works in establishing her clueless, rich bitch character. It also helps that almost every other actor she interacts with is worse than her. But this rosy assessment of Bo Derek’s acting ability is shattered when the sex scenes start. Men usually believe that, by the sheer necessity of male incompetence, every woman learns how to fake an orgasm. Bo Derek’s acting puts this notion to rest. For reasons that God only knows, she believes the heights of passion involve waving your fingers wildly in a way that would put the Bring It On cast to shame. Even the most unconvincing two-bit porn star fakes pleasure better than Derek does. George Kennedy is the only person who can act in this film- unfortunately, he hilariously plays straight the British chauffeur who smiles approvingly as his charge sheds her clothes at the slightest opportunity. Early in the movie when Ayre boards a small plane to get laid by the sheik, he smiles benevolently and says he envies her “spirit.” That’s one way to put it.

Like Ayre, Bolero has “spirit,” even if its animating genius is a delusional belief in its own worth. And this wide-eyed naivety is what sets Bolero apart from so many B-movies who possess the smallest modicum of self-awareness to recognize their own cheapness.

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