“Films have never shown the kind of relationship that can exist between two women.” – Brigitte Bardot
French actress and singer Brigitte Bardot hasn’t acted in nearly 50 years but is still revered as one of the top actresses of her time. Famous for her sex symbol status in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Bardot starred in critically acclaimed films like Contempt and The Truth. In a 1959 essay, Simone de Beauvoir declared her as the first and most liberated woman of post-war France. She was awarded the Legion of Honour in 1985 but refused to accept it.
While speaking about legends such as Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich, who died alone, Bardot said: “The majority of great actresses met tragic ends. When I said goodbye to this job, to this life of opulence and glitter, images and adoration, the quest to be desired, I was saving my life.”
Bardot is also an ardent animal activist, “It is a battle. A fight against cruelty, stupidity, and the indifference of humans. It’s animals against man, a furious fight meant to better the conditions of animals in the world, to open people’s eyes, to fight their selfishness, and to protect the weakest from the most destructive forces.”
On her 86th birthday, we revisit some of her finest film performances as a celebration of the unique talent of Brigitte Bardot.
Brigitte Bardot’s 10 best films:
10. The Bear and the Doll (Michel Deville – 1970)
This 1970 comedy-drama by Michel Deville features Bardot as Felicia, a high spirited woman who tries to seduce a conservative musician/single-dad called Gaspard (played by Jean-Pierre Cassel). The film was inspired by American screwball comedies of the 1930s and was written with Catherine Deneuve in mind
When asked about the films she felt most attached to, Bardot said, “The Truth, And God Created Woman and The Bear and the Doll.” She also cited Michel Deville as one of the most filmmakers for her, alongside Roger Vadim and Claude Autant-Lara.
9. Une Parisienne (Michel Boisrond – 1957)
Bardot stars in Boisrond’s 1957 film as the daughter of the French President who marries her father’s secretary (Henri Vidal) but the dysfunctional marriage is soon destabilised by jealousy and infidelity. This was Bardot’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed 1954 film And God Created Woman.
Bardot cemented her comic-erotic persona in this commercially successful comedy. The film was even labelled as “a daring documentary on the natural beauties of Brigitte Bardot”. The actress also solidified her position as the emblem of French modernity with this performance.
8. Plucking the Daisy (Marc Allégret – 1956)
Marc Allégret’s 1956 French comedy stars Bardot as Agnès Dumont, the daughter of a General who tries to send her to a convent after discovering that she is the author of a scandalous novel. However, she escapes to Paris and enters an amateur striptease contest for money.
Bardot and Roger Vadim’s professional collaboration included four films on which he served as writer and director and three that he cowrote, the latter category includes Plucking the Daisy. Bardot’s history with both Allégret and Vadim dates back to 1949 when the director was preparing a film based on a script by his young assistant Vadim.
7. The Legend of Frenchie King (Christian-Jaque, Guy Casaril – 1971)
This 1971 Western features Bardot as an outlaw. Along with her four sisters, she initially fights another outlaw (Claudia Cardinale) but when they are jailed, they team up to take revenge on the town’s men. Although the film was dismissed by critics, it was relatively more popular when compared to most of her last few works.
Bardot’s co-star Claudia Cardinale revealed, “I was a fan of Brigitte Bardot. Who could not be? When I was young she was my idol. I loved her elegance and her natural power. She was unique.”
6. Viva Maria! (Louis Malle – 1965)
Malle’s 1965 adventure comedy film stars Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau as two women named Maria who meet and become revolutionaries in the early 20th century. For her performance, Bardot was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress.
Malle reflected on the two leading women in the film, “Jeanne Moreau holding out for the ideal of love, Brigitte Bardot seizing the day; one opting for wiliness and passivity, the other for forthrightness and risk. And then, too, the film offers you a space to reflect on political violence, so inconsequential in the movie and so bloody and incendiary outside.”
5. Love Is My Profession (Claude Autant-Lara – 1958)
Based on the novel In Case of Emergency by Georges Simenon, this 1958 French drama featured Bardot as an attractive young criminal who is accused of robbery. She asks for one of the leading lawyers of Paris (played by Jean Gabin) to defend her.
This was Bardot’s first serious melodrama and marked a turning point in her illustrious career. As was the case with most of the ‘quality’ dramas of the period, the film is primarily remembered for pairing two of the biggest French stars of that time.
4. And God Created Women (Roger Vadim – 1956)
Roger Vadim’s 1956 romantic drama is often cited as the film that launched Bardot’s film career, turning her into a public figure overnight. The iconoclastic film starred Bardot as a hyper-sexualised 18 year old who challenges the institution of marriage. It was subjected to a lot of censorship when it premiered in America, where slogans said, “God Created Woman but the Devil created Brigitte Bardot!”
In a 2015 interview, Bardot spoke highly of her co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant, “Actors always want to look young. Jean-Louis doesn’t care. As a result, we’re talking about him again. He’s exceptional. Rare. I find that fantastic, that’s all.”
3. The Night Heaven Fell (Roger Vadim – 1958)
Set in rural Spain, Roger Vadim’s 1958 film explored the unparalleled sensuality of Brigitte Bardot like his critically acclaimed debut And God Created Woman had done. The crime drama’s primary focus is the engaging chemistry between Bardot and Stephen Boyd.
Co-star Stephen Boyd praised Bardot, “She gives adults that same feeling of sneaking cookies out of the cupboard that they had at the age of six. They giggle and try to explain their interest as pure amusement, but actually it’s their animal adolescence showing….it’s the sort of thing that the man in the street can’t resist. It’s a symbol of things that are not openly discussed.”
2. The Truth (Henri-Georges Clouzot – 1960)
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1960 film is right up there among the best films Bardot was a part of and it also coincided with one of her best on-screen performances. Bardot is fantastic as Dominique, a young woman who is accused of murdering her lover. The film was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar and Bardot was awarded a David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign actress for her role in the film.
Bardot said, “When it was a comedy, I was in a fun mood, perky. But a dramatic role just wiped me out. When I was shooting The Truth, Clouzot was so good at persuading me that I was this loose woman, this tragic character, that I ended up believing it. I became Dominique. So much so, that a few months later I wanted to commit suicide myself.”
1. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard – 1963)
One of Jean-Luc Godard’s finest early works, the 1963 film is based on Alberto Moravia’s eponymous novel. The best performance of Bardot’s career happens in the most philosophically challenging film that she has ever acted in. Beautifully shot in Technicolor in Rome and Capri, Contempt is a delightfully bizarre commentary on the nature of filmmaking and life itself. Although Godard and Bardot did not get along, their collaboration is a memorable product of the nouvelle vague.
“It’s common knowledge that [Godard] got on my nerves,” Bardot recalled. “I thought he looked stupid wearing that hat all the time. We were always having to make up dialogue at the last minute. There was no plot. It was a real free-for-all. Not to mention the hordes of paparazzi following me about. But it turned into a great film, and so much the better.”