The name Brigitte Bardot conjurors up contrasting images of blonde hair for some and animal activism for others. Bardot was ahead of her time in the sixties: a time filled with blondes, including Marilyn Munroe. Unlike Munroe, Bardot was not at the mercy of a system that did not know what to do with her. That’s why LA PARISIENNE (1957) is interesting to assess in today’s light. No, it has nothing to do with the North American Pontiac car of the same name minus the “La” for those old enough to remember that. Rather, it is a vehicle for the multi-dimensional Bardot.
Bardot (that last name could go on a marquee and still get an audience) was just twenty three when she was teamed with Charles Boyer for this farce. Bardot plays Brigitte Laurie, who is in love with a politician played by Henri Vidal, and the man she pursues to make him jealous is Le Prince Charles, played by the 58-year-old Charles Boyer.
The picture opens with an overture of music over a blank screen. The tone is rather somber in nature at first and then suddenly changes tempo to French Pop vocals. The screen abruptly cuts to Brigitte driving the streets of Paris in a red sports car – either a sunbeam or MG – which stands out amongst all the other vehicles. Quintessential music and mood for the time is handled well. Brigitte is driving to meet her love politician Michel Legrand (Henri Vida), who is in a hurry to skip off to Europe on a diplomatic trip. Legrand speeds off with Brigitte following him through the streets in her red vehicle. She get stopped for speeding. Brigitte talks and smiles her way out of the ticket when she reveals she is President Alcide Laurier’s daughter.
Brigitte’s father President Alcide Laurier (André Luguet) lands after a mission to Europe. He says they have made significant progress in building a cradle for Europe now that have to get them to lie in it. The president questions his daughter, asking “How’s my little idiot?”
It’s the classic make ‘em jealous story. Brigitte Laurie, in love with womanizing Michel, decides to pursue Le Prince Charles, played by the 58-year-old Charles Boyer. Boyer recognized the talent of Bardot off scene and championed her to the local press .He claimed the stories written about her escapades were mostly fabrications,
The wooing of the Prince begins when Brigitte, dressed in an alluring red gown, meets him by chance at large party. The two talk both coyly and forthrightly of lustful intentions, forming a relationship of sorts. The Prince jets her off to Nice for a swim, so we see her emerging from the sea in a bikini. Bardot also appears as a lusty secretary wearing a tight sweater working for Legrand while trying to make him jealous. We also see her as the girl sneaking up to a hotel to start an affair with no strings attached and as the bride taking off her gown and walking around in lingerie. One also gets to see Brigitte dance rather fetchingly in a secret jazz club bar to the delight of the musicians and later the Prince.
With all this going on you wonder why the film matters, other than to display a sex symbol. This is done quite well and with taste for the time. It is the beginning of the creation of Brigitte Bardot, international sex symbol. This film, plus Roger Vadim’s AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (1956) which broke the sex kitten image along with LA PARISIENNE (1957) and Henri-Georges Clouzot, LE VERITE (1960) form three powerful films that show Bardot had diverse acting skills as well as physical charisma. Le VERITE (1960) is a stark black and white courtroom drama with a very different Bardot. LA PARISIENNE (1957) shows skills with comedy, particularly farce in movement and action. The dialogue with Boyer is playful and erudite. And honestly? The camera loves her. Bardot dominates the scene even without speaking. Bardot at 23 already has specially designed wardrobe and hair for the film. That look caught on in popular culture at that time and is still an influence.
This combination of three pivotal, different roles is what I believe Marilyn Monroe wanted but could not get from a different system of Hollywood. Munroe had BUS STOP (1956, THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955) THE MISFITS (1961) and THE RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954) to her credit. It was not her fault that the studios or the public simply did not know how to handle her in the same way as the more permissive France did with Bardot. Comparing apples to oranges. I suggest even a little ‘American’ ego by referring to Munroe as the blueprint for blonde with ‘sex appeal’ which indeed she was however Brigitte Bardot in film and song before her.
The LA PARISIENNE (1957) cinematography is brilliant throughout with the colors, including a shot in front of a set of mirrors, similar to Marilyn Monroe in “How to Marry a Millionaire. The attitude is different for the time in that the picture did have an open acknowledgment of affairs and the jealousy that can occur.
LA PARISIENNE (1957) was made and an interesting time. Long before North America embraced film as an Art form, French film criticism magazines were extoling the virtues and vicious negatives of the work. One of the magazines or journals which still exists today, Cahiers du Cinéma, where writers by the names of Jean Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Claude Chabrol said that current post war films were too safe and dull for new younger film makers and audiences . The Political climate changing plus the young people ( Teenagers) with money who were concerned with ‘America’ style extravagance of spending were interested in seeing and doing different things. Importantly for there were obstacles of finance for starting film makers also distribution. The French porn industry subsidized these efforts for many productions due to these being more heavily taxed during production. The famous “New Wave” of the sixties was launched in retaliation for the old ways and censorship that was imposed. It was all to change again with the events of the student strike and upheaval of 1968.
LA PARISIENNE (1957) is worth a look to see one side of Brigitte Bardot. It’s a sex farce, and despite the silliness and objectification it is well done with French playfulness that later would mutate into something different. Just ask the children of Coca Cola and the atomic bomb. Wasn’t it fun?