I’ve been transfixed by Brigitte Bardot since I was 16.
I watched And God Created Woman, and that was it, I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
It’s a film I can go back to, time and time again, and never tire of it – perhaps because, since having read her biography, there seem to be more than just a few similarities between Brigitte and the character she plays, Juliette.
There’s no glitz in the film, no big dresses, just provincial life and raw Bardot. Brigitte spends most of the film sauntering around bare foot, side by side with her bicycle in figure hugging dresses or lounging around wrapped in a barely-there bed sheet.
The film depicts an orphan, clearly in touch with her womanly attributes, who puts two fingers up to social etiquette. Juliette wants to be loved, but love gets confused with passion and passion nearly destroys her.
Funny then, that Roger Vadim, often described as the man who invented Bardot, later remarked “Passion was a drug to her. And as with any drug, she would be enslaved with it all her life”.
The young Bardot met Vadim at the age of fifteen.
She was already a great beauty and had done several covers for Elle magazine:
They fell madly in love and at the tender age of 18 Brigitte married Vadim and entered a world way beyond her expectations:
“It’s like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Brigitte was living with her rabbit on a farm in the middle of nowhere, going to school every day, and suddenly she was swept up by a tornado and taken somewhere else.
She had no idea where she was going or what would happen. Except in her case it wasn’t a tornado, she was swept up by love”. (Vadim)
Brigitte made 40 films.
As Vanity Fair puts it “On the screen the world discovered a young woman with a swan’s neck, a luscious figure, and an ostentatious bouffant who combined youth, sex, flirtatiousness, insolence, and grace, all wrapped up in a bewildering nonchalance – a heady mix.”
To cut a very long story short, throughout this time Brigitte had a very complicated life. She had many lovers and many affairs and was viewed by some as a (revolutionary) woman driven by her own sexual appetite.
She also had a child and, feeling still very much the child herself and incapable of caring for a baby, allowed the father, Jacques Charrier to bring him up. Brigitte also made an attempt to commit suicide at the age of twenty-six.
Eventually Brigitte turned her back on the movie industry.
Brigitte never came to terms with her on-screen persona. “The other day I came across And God Created Woman on TV, which I haven’t seen in ages. I told myself that that girl wasn’t bad. But it was like it was someone other than me. I have better things to do than study myself on a screen.”
Perhaps her inability to recognize herself on screen came down to the fact that she never wanted to be an actress.
Vadim himself stated “She had only one real passion and that was dance. People sometimes confuse being a dancer and being an actress and think it’s the same thing. It’s not at all.
For her, dance was a real passion. She had a talent for it and she worked at it. Which she never did as an actress.
It was entirely due to sentimental reasons …. out of love – the most grotesque and, at the same time, beautiful love possible – that she gave up her career as a dancer, abandoned any hope of ever becoming a prima ballerina with an opera company, to follow the man she loved into the movies.”
“For me, the cinema is linked to such confusion in my life that I never wish to hear about it again.”
What her life is all about now, she says, is the love she sees in the eyes of her dogs and the purring of her cats and the soft muzzle of the mare she saved from the knackers yard. It is, she says, about having found a love that lasts.
It is perhaps surprising that Brigitte remained good friends with Vadim, her ultimate confidante, until much later in life. Perhaps as she found something real, a direction in life, she realised the extent of his influence at such a young age. She said of late:
“He taught me everything. He made me out to be free with my love. It’s part of the legend he built up around me. It’s what he has made the public think.” (Vanity Fair)
Unsurprisingly Vadim (who died in 2000) did not understand the new Bardot:
“She’s another person. She’s two completely different people. She’s not the woman-child I knew, who was drunk with life, a bit of an anarchist, who didn’t care about material things, who mocked anything and everything official and, above all, who walked around with that air of complete indifference.”
I suspect Vadim was not being entirely complimentary, but I say, at long last. Whilst I may not agree with some of Brigitte’s politics, I am glad that she had the opportunity to be the woman she wanted to be and put her passion into something proactive rather than destructive.
“Good thing I stopped, because what happened to Marilyn Monroe and Romy Schneider would have happened to me”. (Vanity Fair)
All images from Brigitte Bardot, Ghislain Dussart, Raymond Boyer, Isabelle Salmon.
All quotes (unless stated) from Bardot – Two Lives by Jeffrey Robinson