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Brigitte Bardot

     It's an adventuresome idea to bring back the decades-ago films of Brigitte Bardot from her barefoot-kitten-with-a-Baywatch-superbosom days, when she outwiggled Marilyn Monroe. And God Created Woman is the brazenly titled 1956 movie that made the earthy nymphet earth-famous, in which the new Eve wore her button-up skirt unbuttoned to her panties, in which she pressed her no-bra breasts into the chests of men, taunting them to bite on her apple.

     "The Juliette in And God Created Woman is exactly me. When I'm in front of the camera, I'm exactly myself," Bardot purred, and Simone De Beauvoir dared defend BB's up-front sexuality in the 1962 Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome. "In her role of confused female, of homeless little slut, BB seems to be available to everyone," De Beauvoir wrote. "And yet, paradoxically, she is intimidating....(T)here is something stubborn in her sulky face, in her sturdy body....There is nothing coarse about her. She has a kind of spontaneous dignity..."

     De Beauvoir didn't ruin Bardot by wrapping the au naturale star in a puritanical rereading. Instead, Jean-Paul Sartre's main squeeze grooved on Bardot's great looks: "The line of her lips forms a childish pout, and at the same time her lips are very kissable.... (S)he turns up her nose at elegant clothes, jewels, girdles, perfumes, makeup, and all artifice. Yet her walk is lascivious and a saint would sell his soul to the devil to watch her dance."

     Bardot the actress? She's gained some grudging respect at last with the immensely successful revival last year, in many Western countries, of Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt (1963), in which she gives perhaps the cinema's finest performance of an angry, passive-aggressive wife.

     More Bardot:
     Viva Maria! (1965)-It's almost impossible to believe, living in the post-Thelma and Louise world, but, prior to the mid-70s, films which celebrated women's friendship could be counted on one hand. In all of cinema! So that's what makes Viva Maria! so contextually remarkable, that filmmaker Louis Malle conceived a story for co-stars Bardot and Jeanne Moreau to track through rural Mexico as bosom-buddies roommates in a traveling theatrical show. The highlights of the film are their frolicsome musical numbers, written by the great Georges Delarue, which recall Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), one of those female friendship movies!

     Mostly, Viva Maria! is pretty bland and conventional, even with a peasant-revolution subplot, allowing Bardot to shoot fascists with a submachine gun.

     And God Created Woman (1956)-Thanks to her exploitative director, Roger Vadim, BB is incredibly undressed for a film made in 1956, and there's a sexy love scene down on the beach which one-upped the Burt Lancaster-Deborah Kerr tryst in the sands of 1953's From Here to Eternity. The St. Tropez-set story is limp, however, as the frisky young thing flits predicably among three men, a jaded tycoon (ageless Curt Jurgens), a hardened macho-man (undershirted Christian Marquand), and a wimpy nice guy (a young and squeeky Jean-Louis Trintigant) who truly loves her.

     Love on a Pillow (1962)-Director Vadim again, casting Bardot as a bourgeois Parisian engaged to be married, about to inherit family money. She opens the wrong hotel room door, and the man lying there (Robert Hossein) disrupts her life. Soon, he's moved in to her apartment. In the day, he lolls about drinking and devouring sci-fi books. At night, he introduces BB into his sensualist crowd. Bardot is good in this one, and her dilemma of having a dubious man taking over her identity has resonance. Unfortunately, Vadim is a totally lousy filmmaker, and his orgy scenes and sentimental ending are poppycock.

     Spirits of the Dead (1968)-Bardot appears briefly in one part of this three-story film, based on macabre stories by Poe. Jane Fonda stars in Roger Vadim's woeful opening tale as a Lucretia Borgia-like, Middle-Ages hussy, who takes bisexual baths with female underlings, and, when her cousin (Peter Fonda), rejects her advances, burns him in a barn fire. It's funnier to describe than to see.

     The second tale, Louis Malle's version of Poe's protypal doppelganger tale, "William Wilson," is more effective. Two young men both with the title name are shadow enemies. The original Wilson (Alain Delon) is a determined-to-be-ignominious guy, who cheats Bardot (under a black wig) in a poker game and gets to whip her bared back, again and again. The second Wilson comes to the damsel's rescue.

     Tale three is Federico Fellini's marvelous, modern-day updating of Poe, "Toby Dammit," with Terence Stamp a hoot as a drunken British actor who comes to Italy to star in a Catholic western only because he has been promised a new Ferrari. Fellini populates his film with ions of funny movie people coming at the out-of-it Toby, and then there's a seemless segue into a chilling, Corman-like horror-movie ending. If 8 1/2 starred Vincent Price!

GERALD PEARY
(August, 1999)

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