In his 1972 biography Brigitte Bardot: Eternal Sex Goddess, Peter Evans shares a quote about the purring icon from millinery designer Jean Barrate, who compares watching her graceful pirouettes to “observing the magnificent lines of a hammerhead shark from behind bullet-proof glass.” Bardot was 14 at the time, but at the age of 28 she took the lead in a featherweight rom-com called Love On A Pillow, in which she played the beautiful socialite Geneviève, obscuring behind her poised, bourgeoise exterior the full-blooded amour of a Great White. The film’s director is Roger “Barbarella” Vadim, her ex-husband, but also the acclaimed auteur behind And God Created… Woman (1956), the incestuous ménage-à-trois picture which established her sex kitten status. Here he frames Bardot like a middle-class angel, in one scene gazing at her bathing nude before the glow of a roaring flame, her silken skin illuminated by its aroused embers. Even if the film isn’t up to match, it’s one of the sexiest scenes in BB’s career.
Geneviève is visiting Paris to collect on the six-figure inheritance left by an obscure (yet rich) aunt, but upon arriving in the city she’s drawn into the despairing world of Renaud (Robert Hossein), the suave sociopath whom she saves from suicide. It’s one of the odder meet-cutes I can remember. What emerges between the pair isn’t so much attraction as perverse fascination, kindled by the apparent danger each holds for the other. For him Geneviève is a pouting blonde sent from the heavens; an intoxicant, like his favoured whiskey, to aid an escape from reality. For her Renaud represents something exotic; an enigma who breaks every standard set by her shallow material lifestyle. She breaks from fiancée Pierre (Jean-Marc Bory) and holes up with the self-loathing drifter, whiling away days by making love and arguing in her lush boutique of an apartment. All the while they fall deeper and deeper into the nihilistic pit formed by Renaud, and as he begins writing crummy detective fiction the happy façade slips away…
As rom-coms go Love On A Pillow is an attractive little trifle, but perhaps it’s better approached as some kind of autobiographical fantasy for writer/director Vadim, whose obsession with Bardot ran far beyond their intense, albeit fleeting marriage. The filmmaker first noticed BB when she posed, aged 15, for an Elle cover. She became his pin-up girl, but that wasn’t enough for this renowned lothario – he wanted the real thing. They were married shortly after her 18th birthday, but they’d be divorced by the time And God Created… Woman, his paean to her curvy mystique, had wrapped. For years afterward they made films together, and in each one he re-painted her persona, re-addressed his love through the most lavish, bare-skinned fiction possible. Here Vadim’s camera trails after Bardot like a love-sick puppy, in one scene applying it in close-up to her plush lips and attentive eyes; Love On A Pillow seems almost like his way of saying, “come back to me.” And he’s in the film too, of course, represented by the womanizing Renaud, who fights with himself and forces this woman – this rich, well-mothered woman (reflecting Bardot’s own upbringing) – to lose her self worth, turning her into little more than his 5’7″ plaything.
Godard’s Le mépris (1963) would allow Bardot to challenge her star image, but Love On A Pillow best defines her star appeal, as Vadim drapes her in soft, pastel-like tones of green and blue, emphasizing her voluptuous chest and flowing gold locks. Collaborating with DP Armand Thirard (Clouzot’s regular cinematographer) the director composes some gorgeous images, especially when playing with soft focus lenses and foregrounding Geneviève in an otherwise obscure frame. Pillow‘s colours practically bleed from the screen, but then Vadim has always been an extraordinary (and underrated) visual stylist. Watching Bardot friskily vacuuming her apartment in the buff I remembered Barbarella‘s iconic opening, in which Jane Fonda floats around her zero-gravity boudoir in all her *ahem* glory, and that the scene had appeared not trashy but, well… classy. Vadim achieves much the same effect here, but some poor scripting means that there’s precious little else to recommend Pillow for – Bardot’s film career was not a shy one, and there’s nothing on offer here you can’t glimpse elsewhere, and with a better story to boot…
Optimum Entertainment are well known for their high-quality restorations, and although the colours in Love On A Pillow look astonishing (why no Blu-Ray?) there seems to have been some irrecoverable damage done to the print, with some smudging and fading occasionally noticeable in the frame. It’s only very minor, but given how lavish the film looks – from sets to costumes to, well, Bardot – the damage appears more prominent. Anyhow, there’s very little reason to recommend this disc straight off the shelf as there are no extras to justify its £15.99 RRP; it’s the definition of vanilla, not even providing an original trailer or simple stills gallery. A missed opportunity indeed.
Director: Roger Vadim
Stars: Brigitte Bardot, Robert Hossein, Jean-Marc Bory
Runtime: 102 min
Country: France, Italy