Brigitte Bardot

b. Paris, 1934

There is no clearer sign of the critical quality of Godard’s art than Contempt, a film that, among other things, gave her most significant place in cinema history to Brigitte Bardot. Contempt is not just a commentary on the Godardian consciousness married to an actress, but a prediction of the eventual rupture between Godard and his own wife, Anna Karina. It is part of Godard’s skill that he chose to make this personal statement—what Raoul Coutard called “a letter to his wife”—out of his most orthodox and expensive film. But it was appropriate that this story of an attempt to make a Cinecittá Odyssey should itself be a Carlo Ponti/Joseph Levine production, based with some fidelity on a novel by Alberto Moravia. While Bardot was a commercial imposition, her presence may have enabled Godard to be more open in admitting his fears and in revealing that element of misogyny that recurs in his films. His first film in CinemaScope, Contempt opens with a magnificent reclining nude Bardot, shocking and scathing in terms of the sexual reticence of his other work. That scene, in which Bardot and Michel Piccoli describe Bardot’s opulent but worthless nakedness, is a reference to the way Roger Vadim’s camera had once stripped her bare. But it is also a pointer to the fact that Godard hardly removed a garment from Karina. Paradoxically, the admiring CinemaScope lavishness of all that creamy shoulder, back, bottom, and thigh is contemptuous. This was Godard’s way of honoring the contract: that to use BB was to include an obligatory nude scene.

All of which is to say that the worldwide reputation of Bardot is the creation of those French magazines, of Vadim’s lubricity, of the sociology of Simone de Beauvoir, and of Bardot’s original epitome of the youthful sexuality that tanned itself on the Côte d’Azur once the austerity of war had worn off. Her actual screen appeal was as a brunette, pouting but smiling, and with a perfect body that she was casually willing to display. The attempt of her first husband Roger Vadim to advertise his own advantages through her seemed to exhaust her. She quickly turned blond and her eyes grew heavy fake lashes. Her face and smile seemed pumped up and only exposed the weird lack of personality or intelligence. There is an awful sadness in her return to Vadim for Don Juan or if Don Juan Were a Woman (73).

From modeling, she broke into films in the mid-1950s: Le Trou Normand (52, Jean Boyer); Futures Vedettes (54, Marc Allégret); very appealing in Summer Manoeuvres (55, René Clair); to England for Doctor at Sea (55, Ralph Thomas); La Lumière d’en Face (55, Georges Lacombe); Cette Sacrée Gamine (55, Michel Boisrond); Helen of Troy (55, Robert Wise); Mio Figlio Nerone (56, Steno); Mamzelle Striptease (56, Allégret); And God Created Woman (56, Vadim)—the film that made her an international sensation; Heaven Fell That Night (57, Vadim); Une Parisienne (57, Boisrond); Love Is My Profession (58, Claude Autant-Laura); La Femme et le Pantin (58, Julien Duvivier); Babette S’En Va-t-en Guerre (59, Christian-Jaque); La Bride sur le Cou (59, Jean Aurel and Vadim); monotonous in the “serious” acting role of La Vérité (60, Henri-Georges Clouzot); and then in the curiously self-pitying Vie Privée (62, Louis Malle), which was a polite and inane picture of some of her own anguish at being a sex object; Warrior’s Rest (62, Vadim), which was the most baroque celebration of her as a sex object; Une Ravissante Idiote (63, Edouard Molinaro); jerky and nervous in Viva María! (65, Malle); Dear Brigitte (65, Henry Koster); seen briefly on the Metro in Masculin-Feminin (66, Godard); A Coeur Joie (67, Serge Bourguignon); in the “William Wilson” episode from Histoires Extraordinaires (67, Malle); Shalako (68, Edward Dmytryk); Les Femmes (69, Aurel); L’Ours et La Poupée (69, Michel Deville); Les Novices (70, Guy Casaril); Boulevard de Rhum (71, Robert Enrico); Les Pétroleuses (71, Christian-Jaque). Il Somiso del Grande Tentatore (75, Damiano Damiani).