Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Love on a Pillow (1962)

Brigitte Bardot’s popularity in France was based mainly on the sexy romantic comedies she did in the late 50s and early 60s. By the 60s Bardot was taking on much more varied and more challenging roles in movies like Love on a Pillow, directed by her ex-husband Roger Vadim.

The English title is very unfortunate, giving the impression (undoubtedly intentional from a commercial point of view) that this is going to be a frothy romantic comedy. The original French title Le repos du guerrier would be more accurately translated as Repose of the Warrior and this gives the clue that this is in fact a psycho-sexual melodrama.

Bardot is Geneviève Le Theil, a young woman who has just inherited a vast fortune from her aunt. She’s also engaged to be married to a very pleasant and very decent young man and life for Geneviève seems to be a rather untroubled progress towards personal and marital happiness.

Then fate steps in, as it is wont to do (especially in the movies). On a trip necessitated by the probate of her aunt’s will she walk into the wrong hotel room. On the bed is a man, asleep. Only she quickly realises he isn’t asleep. He’s unconscious and barely alive. He has taken an overdose. She has foiled his suicide attempt and saved his life. Afterwards he jokes that his soul now belongs to her. But he seems to take it seriously, and she finds it impossible to get rid of him.

His name is Renaud Sarti. At first he seems charming in a quirky sort of way, and he is quite good-looking. He’s obviously keen to sleep with her and she’s not entirely verse to the idea and pretty soon they’re lovers. Their relationship is fun at first. She doesn’t even worry too much about his drinking or his irresponsibility. She is falling in love with him. He hangs around with an arty bohemian crowd and has vague pretensions to being creative although he’s never actually achieved anything or even attempted anything in any artistic field. In these circles wanting to be creative is just as good as the real thing. Actually doing anything would be hopelessly bourgeois.

Geneviève is basically a level-headed old-fashioned girl and she’s a little suspicious of these arty friends of his, although she is quite fond of the sculptor Katov (James Robertson Justice in a somewhat typical role for him). Katov is sympathetic. Although he likes Renaud he knows he’s really a spoilt child and will almost certainly make Geneviève unhappy.

Renaud’s behaviour becomes more and more obnoxious and unpredictable. He’s no longer fun. Now he’s gone all existential on her. He’s tortured by the loss of freedom that a permanent relationship entails. He feels trapped and angst-ridden, poor boy. To Renaud this is the stuff of tragedy although to anyone else it’s simply adolescent self-indulgence.

Things come to a head when he ostentatiously picks up a prostitute in front of Geneviève. This is the final straw, and she drives off and leaves him. Driving off was easy enough, but forgetting him is much more difficult. She’s in love, and for her that’s a serious matter. Also she’s not inclined to give up on things, not even on loser boyfriends. But will Renaud give up his precious freedom for love?

The movie is obviously trying to deal seriously with the social changes occurring throughout the western world in the late 50s and 60s. Freedom opposed to responsibility, free love opposed to marriage, etc. It’s unfortunate that Renaud is such an unsympathetic character but it’s not really a fatal weakness. It makes it easier for us to see things from Geneviève’s point of view, and it prevents the movie from taking a simplistic “freedom is always good and marriage is always oppressive” position.

The movie’s greatest strength is Bardot’s performance. She gives her character a nice mix of innocence and passion and makes her slightly old-fashioned view of love and marriage seem perfectly reasonable. While Renaud likes to view her as a typical woman who wants to take a man’s freedom away from him Bardot makes sure we never fall into the trap of accepting his jaundiced view. Geneviève becomes a sadder but wiser person but she is never going to allow life to get on top of her.

Writer-director Vadim has been widely regarded as a lightweight purveyor of mildly titillating fluff but this is a rather unfair judgment on a quite interesting if uneven film-maker. The Region 4 DVD is lacking in the extras department but looks terrific. A slightly offbeat movie that is definitely worth getting hold of. If you’re not already a Bardot fan this will give you a taste of the versatility of this underrated actress. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

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