Friday, December 15, 2023

Bardot, on CBC Gem

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Brigitte Bardot movies probably contributed more to France’s trade balance than Peugeot and Citroen combined. She is still France’s most iconic celebrity, even though she hasn’t made a new film since 1973 (and her politics are a bit awkward). Mother-son writer-director-creators Daniele and Christopher Thompson lean into the sex and scandal of the movie star’s life in the six-part Bardot, which premieres today on CBC Gem, up in Canada, where a lot of people like to pretend they speak French.

Bardot was raised in a strict, upper-middleclass household, but her conservative father Louis could never really control her. At the age of fifteen she started making movies and commenced an affair with twenty-one year-old screenwriter Roger Vadim. That sounds creepy, but they were French, right? However, her parents did not see it that way. Yet, they eventually allowed him to marry their daughter when she turned eighteen, after several years of strict supervision.

Their first project together was …
And God Created Woman, which would be a breakout movie for both, especially her. Even though she was not yet a full-fledged star, the paparazzi swarmed her during the chaotic production (which is nearly the exclusive focus of the second episode) and their ferocity only intensified after the film became a scandalous sensation.

The Thompsons start with Bardot’s Lolita-esque teen years and take her through the tabloid-fodder aftermath of her work on Henri Georges Clouzot’s
The Truth. A lot of fans will be disappointed the Thompsons do not stretch the timeline further, to reach Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, which many cineastes must consider her best film.

In many ways, the Thompsons and lead thesp Julia de Nunez reinforce all the sex-kitten-in-a-state-of-arrested-development cliches about Bardot. Throughout all six episodes, she seems incapable of making good relationship decisions and displays a marked aversion to accepting responsibility for her life. While the treatment of Vadim is sympathetic, they essentially suggest Bardot ruined the career of her second husband Jacques Charrier. Perhaps not coincidentally, several episodes also end with the observation that Charrier and their son successfully sued Bardot for the way her memoir portrayed their marriage and her attempts at parenting.

Bardot the series lays waste to just about all the celebrities who crossed Bardot’s path, including her musical lovers Sacha Distel and Gilbert Becaud, producer Raoul Levy, and the “love of her life,” Jean-Louis Trintignant. Clouzot also comes off a bit rough at times, but he is redeemed at the 11th hour—Louis Do de Lencquesaing’s gruffly charismatic performance also helps tremendously in this respect.

It is hard to pass judgement on the Franco-Argentine de Nunez (a newcomer who won the role of Bardot in a nationwide casting call reminiscent of that for Scarlett O’Hara), because she is always so impishly kittenish and naively immature. Yet, we feel for her in later episodes, as the overwhelmed Bardot’s privacy is constantly violated and she is repeatedly betrayed by those around her.

Victor Belmondo brings out an elegantly morose self-awareness in Vadim (keep in mind
Bardot does not reach his years with Jane Fonda either), while Yvan Attal finds dignity in Levy’s bluster. However, Noham Edje makes Trintignant seem like a bafflingly cold fish, while Hippolyte Girardot and Geraldine Paihas portray Bardot’s parents as utter caricatures of bourgeoisie conformity.

Regardless, if you want scandal and gossip,
Bardot has enough to fill a cargo tanker. It also provides an alternate perspective on French cinema from what we see in respectable documentaries like Two in the Wave. It is trashy, but it is also compulsively watchable—and there are a lot of Easter eggs for fans of French cinema. Recommended as a guilty pleasure, Bardot is now available in Canada on CBC Gem.