Wed just two months before, Rebecca (Marianne Faithfull) drifts in and out of sleep early one morning, dreaming of a circus where her husband Raymond (Roger Mutton) is playing a cello and the object of ridicule, while she rides on a horse that circles the ring, whipped by the ringmaster, who is her ex-lover Daniel (Alain Delon). Awake now, she makes up her mind to leave her husband and drive off on the wedding present Daniel gave her: a motorcycle that will take her across Europe to Daniel, abandoning her husband far behind...
Scripted by Ronald Duncan, from director Jack Cardiff's adaptation of Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues' novel, Girl on a Motorcycle presents itself as the ultimate in sixties permissiveness from the start. Rebecca dresses herself in a leather jumpsuit with nothing on underneath, and is scandalously intending to commit adultery, more for the thrill of sex than the power of love. We are privy to her thoughts as she zooms along the country roads, thanks to Faithfull's breathless voiceover and the extensive flashbacks. She not only recalls the events that have brought her to this stage, but also imagines her future and relates her observations on war and free love, all to validate her happening credentials.
Rebecca has grown to despise meek schoolteacher Raymond, who we see being made a fool of by his pupils. What she needs is a virile, pipe-smoking intellectual like Daniel, who will treat her the way she treats Raymond - she wants to be dominated, and happily gives in to Daniel's mind games. So she's not half as independent as she should be, because leaving her husband isn't much of an act of liberation when she's running to the arms of Daniel. It may be rebellion, as she claims at the beginning, but it doesn't set her free.
Cardiff photographed the film, too, and indulges himself with various tricks, such as the psychedelic solarisation techniques that jazz up the images of lovemaking, or the rather clever 360 degree shot around Rebecca as she rides on her bike. The story also doubles as a nice travelogue, with numerous shots of the French and German countryside, and the Swiss skiing holiday that Rebecca and Raymond go on. Faithfull's motorcycle is patently sitting on a trailer for many of the driving scenes, as all the while she laughs and smiles in anticipation, even working herself up into a sexual frenzy, with the bike as a substitute for Daniel.
Girl on a Motorcycle ends up being quite endearing in its attempts to be cutting edge and daring, with unintentional humour arising from Rebecca's "shocking" behaviour. At one point, she starts shouting, "Bastard!" as she drives along a busy street, causing one gentleman to turn around, incensed. During one of the countless flashbacks and imaginings, the kinky nature of Rebecca and Daniel's relationship sees her sinking her teeth into his shoulder as he beats her with a bunch of roses, all in migraine-inducing colours. However, the film doesn't have the courage to give Rebecca what she wants, and the ending looks like punishment for her radical behaviour. Either that or it's a warning not to drink and drive. Music by Les Reed.