Brigitte Bardot has just turned 80 today (28th September), and as a birthday tribute to one of the iconic film personalities of the twentieth century, I want to briefly highlight some of her early filmography that’s relevant to this blog, in order of preference. Three of the four featured here are not only remarkable films in their own right, but they also showcase her versatility as an actress and her persona as the quintessential sex symbol. They offer a window into what it must feel like to be a Brigitte Bardot – forever being selectively judged by the world with regard to her character, morals, and beauty. They give a fascinating insight into Bardot the person herself. Another thing common with the three films, and a hidden agenda behind the choice, is Brigitte Bardot dancing the cha-cha-cha..!
1. “La vérité” [1960, France, Italy]
When we talk of Henri-Georges Clouzot as director, we’re talking about ‘classic’ French cinema, of the pre Nouvelle Vague era. His absorbing courtroom drama “La Vérité” [Eng. Title: The Truth] literally places Brigitte Bardot on the dock and questions her morality and candid sensuality.
Accused of murdering her former lover, Dominique’s (Brigitte Bardot) past is laid bare in an open court and mercilessly examined by a prosecuting lawyer. In claiming that Gilbert’s (Sami Frey) murder had everything to do with his recent engagement to her sister Annie (Marie-José Nat), the lawyer attempts to paint Dominique as an evil-minded, selfish woman with loose morals and few scruples.
Free-spirited Dominique, after several procrastinations and a suicide-attempt, is allowed by parents to move to Paris and live with his music student-sister. Education doesn’t interest her, but the city and its youth culture does, and so Dominique wastes little time in getting acquainted with young men congregating in a latin café. She moves out of her sister’s apartment and lives alongside her new friends, sometimes having sex with them.
Dominique expresses her sexual freedom through various casual encounters, and while initially shocked by her frankness and appetite for sex, Gilbert, Annie’s friend from college, will find her fascinating, and he’ll soon also become obsessed with her. He must have her, and to this end he pursues her despite knowing that she finds him boring at times. He will declare his love for her even after being told that she was with another guy only moments earlier. His perseverance will pay off, and Dominique too will begin to fall in love with him.
Having ‘scored’ finally, Gilbert tries to take control of her life – teach her culture, good taste in music, and so on, but Dominique, despite some futile attempts, will find it hard to reconcile her love for him with her own needs, and often ends up being unfaithful to him. They inevitably break-up, and Dominique, suddenly left homeless and jobless after her flatmate leaves to the US, takes up prostitution to survive. She’s still in love with Gilbert, but he’d by now settled for a career in music, and the virginal Annie…
The drama makes a passionate plea for a woman’s right to live the way she wants to and not be judged, and also questions men’s desire to control them. Dominique had unwittingly become a victim of her own strengths – her beauty and sensuality, by being hounded by men seeking her as a trophy to behold and a free spirit to subdue, while all she ever wanted was the freedom to be her own self, and be loved. But the world refuses to see it that way – according to them, she’s a loose woman who must be taught lessons on how to behave in a ‘respectable’ society. Brigitte Bardot’s finest on-screen performance is made all the more poignant due to the uncanny resemblance of her celebrity-image to that of her character. Directed impeccably by Clouzot, the film blends neo-realism with a dash of glamour. The film is naturally Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Brigitte Bardot and Barbara Sommers
Three scenes feature brief nudity from a calendar-perfect Brigitte Bardot, one of these is a fine example of a beautiful nude derrière dancing the cha-cha-cha. In a memorable scene which would’ve given young men sleepless nights at the time, she performs the same while lying in bed with nothing but a white sheet covering her naked body. It begs the question – why are such (dancing nude) scenes so rare to see nowadays..?
2. “En cas de malheur” [1958, France, Italy]
Claude Autant-Lara is yet another legendary name in classic French cinema. He presided over both the formative and innovative years of his country’s film industry, and has always been a versatile and highly gifted director. His stirring romantic melodrama “En cas de malheur” [Eng. Title: In Case of Adversity (UK), Love Is My Profession (USA)] is again crime-of-passion-themed, and stars a fabulously beautiful Brigitte Bardot alongside superstar Jean Gabin, a combination that in no small way also helped making the film’s controversial subject more palatable.
The film begins with a bungled robbery at a jeweller’s by prostitutes Yvette (Brigitte Bardot) and Noémie (Annick Allières) – the jeweller’s wife is seriously injured during their getaway. Yvette approaches renowned lawyer André (Jean Gabin) and begs him to defend her, and because she couldn’t afford the fee for his services, offers in return her own, in exchange.
A married and hitherto faithful André helps her out of pity and even gets her acquitted, but is smitten by her beauty nevertheless. Yvette will become his willing mistress, with full-knowledge of his tolerant and remarkably perceptive wife, He will even buy an apartment to house her in, and allows her to live as she pleased with no questions asked, provided she spares some time for him in return. He doesn’t expect her to be faithful, but demands that she henceforth stop prostituting herself, sell drugs, or get drunk.
Their arrangement works for a while, until Yvette’s boyfriend Mazzetti (Franco Interlenghi) enters her life again. There is after all only so much that an ever-busy and middle-aged André can offer her in terms of excitement, and Yvette and Mazzetti quickly catch up with the times they were apart. But Mazzetti, prone to bouts of violent temper, will want to have Yvette all to himself, and would go to extraordinary lengths to pull her away from André’s influence. Yvette, whilst trying to escape his tyrannical ways, will nevertheless be drawn back to him, with devastating consequences…
Well written, and exceptionally performed by all the main actors, particularly Jean Gabin, the film oozes class and wit – it is not as well known as Bardot’s other films, but it is a hidden gem waiting to be rediscovered. You won’t be disappointed and the film is definitely Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Brigitte Bardot
Two brief scenes feature nudity from Brigitte Bardot – even by her own yardstick of beauty, this film significantly raises the bar – she is ‘the’ quintessential femme fatale, and ‘the’ celestial creature. What I meant to say is – she couldn’t possibly have been more stunning than she’s in this film. The lighting, the angles, and the composition lends her a charisma that would’ve forced you to forgive her even if she were to commit the gravest of crimes. Forget about nudity – watching her clothed is sensational enough..!
3. “Et Dieu… créa la femme” [1956, France, Italy]
Brigitte Bardot was his wife and also the first-billed star in Roger Vadim’s torrid romance drama “Et Dieu… créa la femme” [Eng. Title: …And God Created Woman]. The Eastmancolor spectacular would’ve been far less sympathetic to Brigiite Bardot’s character, had it not been for her convincing and persuasive performance.
Juliete (Brigitte Bardot), an eighteen year old orphan living with her foster parents in a fishing village (pre-tourism St. Tropez), is self-absorbed and already sexually active, much to her mother’s disapproval. Middle-aged businessman Eric (Curd Jürgens) is just one of the many men who covet her. But she’d set her eyes elsewhere, on the hunky Antoine. However, Antoine only wants to bed her and doesn’t quite consider her as girlfriend-material. He leaves her stranded at the bus stop after promising to take her away with him.
Juliete now has just one choice – she could either go back to her orphanage after her foster parents complained to authorities about her bringing their house into disrepute, or she could avoid it by finding herself a man to marry. Antoine’s younger brother Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who had always fancied her, steps in with an offer of marriage, and despite the priest’s explicit advice against it, they tie the knot.
Michel allows her to remain the free spirit that she was because he accepts and loves her the way she is, and Juliete too responds by loving him in return. But when Antoine returns back to the village to manage their newly merged shipyard, things become complicated, and Juliete begins to lust after him once again. Despite her being his sister-in-law, Antoine wastes no opportunity in having his way with her, and to make matters worse, also tells his mother and brother what he did to her.
The film became controversial because Vadim had used Juliete’s promiscuity to directly challenge the culture of philandering and misogyny among men. Juliete’s desire to live the way she wants is also a bold feminist statement for its time – years before the sexual revolution took off. At least in the raw physical manner of its presentation, it is a ground-breaking film – and it is to Ms. Bardot’s credit that her not-so-endearing screen character is elevated to a crusader demanding equal sexual space to that of men. She may be the epitome of sensuality – her appetite for sex only matched by her indulgence and selfishness, but she also has a positive side; her kindness towards animals, and her genuine regret of loosing judgement for a fleeting moment of sexual pleasure. The drama reaches a crescendo with a Bardot dancing cha-cha-cha in seemingly gay abandon for a rehearsing Cuban jazz band as an exasperated Michel helplessly watches; the long scene’s worth the ticket value in itself. But the film unfortunately does also compromise some of its integrity towards the end, either with an eye on the box office, or for placating the censors. A sign of its times – I guess, but it is still, Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Brigitte Bardot
The film features two brief flashes of nudity from Brigitte Bardot – and for the first time in colour. There’s also one scene featuring concealed nudity when her character emerges from the sea, soaked to the bone and determined to ‘have’ Antoine.
4. Manina, la fille sans voiles [1952, France]
Willy Rozier’s listless romance “Manina, la fille sans voiles” [Eng. Title: The Lighthouse-Keeper’s Daughter (UK), The Girl in the Bikini (USA)] is the most underwhelming film of the four listed here. The only reason for it featuring in my list is because it is also the first instance of film nudity from Brigitte Bardot, in what was also among her very first films.
Manina (Brigitte Bardot), who lives in a lighthouse with her parents in a desolate Corsican island, is befriended by diving enthusiast and Parisian college student Gérard (Howard Vernon). He discovers an ancient artefact in the seabed which he’ll later learn to have probably belonged in part to a legendary sunken treasure. He goes back after five years and tries to locate the rest of the bounty with the help of a cigarette smuggler, and falls for a now all grown up and mostly bikini-clad Manina. He finds the treasure and loses it to the smuggler, but all ends well because he’d at the least had an adventure and got himself a pretty girl.
It is a poorly directed film with some surprisingly mediocre acting, choppy editing, and a monotonous mandolin incessantly twanging away in the background (and some crunching noises that shouldn’t have been there in the first place). But Bardot, all of eighteen, is at her adorable innocent best here – her face is yet that of a child, and there wouldn’t have been any hint of sensuality were it not for her fully grown breasts. It’s safe to assume that the only reason the film ever made it to DVD was Brigitte Bardot. She displays her budding talents with whatever little scope she’s offered, and that includes her sweet singing voice getting an airing. I’ve left the subtitles on in this sample clip, but I can bet that most of you won’t be following it too closely…
The Nudity: Brigitte Bardot
My DVD is an NTSC edition, and as far as I’m aware, there is only brief partial nudity in the film when a sunbathing Manina is disturbed by the bad guy. It must’ve yet caused a sensation because nudity in any form was quite uncommon those days.