In the late 1950s and 1960s, Brigitte Bardot was the definitive sex symbol, her popularity spanning all cultures and media. In the film world, she's known primarily for two roles, both available on excellent Criterion transfers: â?¦ And God Created Woman, which made her an icon, and Contempt, which subverted that iconography. But in her 21 years in show business, she made some 50 films, most of which slipped through the film-history cracks and are available only in subpar, no-frills DVD cheapies.
Lionsgate is out to change this with its seductively packaged five-film collection, and while the box set contains plenty of the kind of moments that made Bardot such a fantastically fetching phenomenon, it doesn't exactly solidify her as an important cinematic figure. For the most part, these are bourgeois titles made by bourgeois directors like Michel Boisrond and Bardot's first husband, Roger Vadim.
Vadim is a minor filmmaker but deserves a footnote for popularizing Bardot with â?¦ And God Created Woman. The title says it all ' Bardot as the archetypal woman, the very picture of beauty, a creature only God could create. But people don't remember the film itself much, just the stratospheric launching of Bardot's stardom the buzz film created. Vadim's lone contribution to this collection, Love on a Pillow, is even less memorable, a mirthless drama about a woman who leaves her comfortable fiance for an ambitionless sad sack whom she rescues from a suicide attempt. There are some impressive overhead shots wasted on an instantly forgettable melodrama with a score as saccharine as Love Story's and an opening of such pure, undisguised exposition that it feels almost parodic.
Other mediocrities include Boisrond's Come Dance With Me, which puts Bardot in sleuth mode, trying to save her husband from a mistaken murder charge. This has some amusing moments here and there, but Bardot is miscast in a part that seems tailored for a Doris Day, the exact opposite of Bardot's coquettish openness. The earliest film in the set, Naughty Girl, is another middling comedy-mystery about a teenager involved in her father's criminal nightclub racket and the entertainer who's forced to hide her from the police investigation. There are lots of farcical hijinks and silly sound effects along the way, the whole thing resembling the kind of breezy tripe Francis Veber has come to mimic.
The Vixen provides more of the same: the sexist story of a womanizing writer (Maurice Ronet) who hires Bardot as his secretary and proceeds to tell the story, shot in flashback, of his two enduring loves. Bardot has an almost thankless, secondary part to the boorish male lead. The only truly great film in the collection is Two Weeks in September, which plants Bardot as a model in swinging '60s London. In another conventional plot, she's torn between two lovers, but unlike the rest of this set, you get the feeling the director has actually seen a French New Wave film. The filmmaker, Serge Bourguignon, also shows just enough of Bardot's body to titillate without arousing the censors.
With Bardot's turn to far-right politics tarnishing her image for some, this underwhelming collection reminds us what Bardot will be most remembered for: laying the groundwork for the sexual revolution in cinema with her unprecedented lack of inhibition.
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