September 28, 1934– Brigitte Bardot:
“I started out as a lousy actress and I have remained one.”
When Bardot retired in 1973, at just 39-years-old, she had already appeared in more than 50 films. She walked away from fame and adoration and into seclusion at her home in Sainte-Tropez where she dedicated herself to animals. Bardot seems to have only left showbiz to protest in favor of Animal Rights and make some dreadful comments about immigration. But, she has always been true to herself: honest, outspoken and completely natural. Bardot still carries her authenticity. She calls out those who live by hypocrisy, caution, calculation or premeditation.
When Bardot first came on the scene in the early 1950s, the world was not prepared for a woman like her. When she was 18-years-old, she married film director Roger Vadim, who cast her as the amoral Juliete in And God Created Woman (1957). Her very essence embodied the breaking sexual revolution that the public had not anticipated. Bardot’s character of Juliete was a woman with an unsuppressed sexual appetite. The scene in which she dances barefoot with her hair loose and her skin shining with sweat was a defining moment in film history. The NY Times film critic at the time, Bosley Crowther, wrote:
“In fact, it isn’t what Mademoiselle Bardot does in bed but what she might do that drives the male characters into an erotic frenzy. She is a thing of mobile contours, a phenomenon you have to see to believe.”
The film caused a scandal in the puritan USA. Its success and the shock it provoked bounced back to Europe. In 1959, in a famous essay about Bardot called The Lolita Syndrome, French intellectual Simone de Beauvoir wrote about Bardot’s controversies, calling Bardot the “locomotive of women’s history”, comparing her position in French culture with Existentialism, and defining her as the most liberated woman of postwar France:
“When Marlene Dietrich exhibited her silk-wrapped thighs while singing in her husky voice, she was casting a spell… Bardot doesn’t cast spells; she acts. Her flesh doesn’t have the generosity that symbolizes passivity. Her clothes are not fetishes and when she undresses, she reveals no mystery. She simply shows off her body, which is in constant movement. She walks, she dances, she moves. In the hunting game, she is both hunter and prey. Males are an object for her, as much as she is an object for them. This is precisely what hurts males’ pride.”
Feminists might have disagreed that Bardot was the very symbol of the liberated woman, but Bardot was totally liberated at a time when most women were never allowed to be. She threw conventions away, living the way she pleased, dressing as she wished, with the freedom to be very, very provocative. Bardot’s naturalness was more perverse than any sort of sophistication.
Bardot married four times and broke hundreds of hearts. She had a child and then discovered she wasn’t cut out to be a mother, leaving her son to be brought up by his father. But she wasn’t just acting out her rebellious impulses.
“Bardot is neither rebellious nor immoral; this is why morality hasn’t got a chance with her. Good and Evil are part of the conventions she wouldn’t even dream of respecting. She doesn’t try to shock or provoke. She makes no demands. She has no idea what her rights or her duties could be. She follows her inclinations. She eats when she’s hungry and makes love as simply. She does what she pleases and this is what is so troubling.”
Bardot is an Existentialist icon. Her best quality, in typical French fashion, was that she doesn’t care much. She didn’t really want to be an actor, a singer or a sex symbol, it just happened. The woman she was in 1956 was already a modern woman. Her beauty and honesty made her very subversive. Religious Conservatives claimed that her films contributed to the breakdown of society.
Film director Louis Malle:
“When we were filming together in a shopping arcade in Lausanne, a woman in a fur coat came up while Bardot was acting, spat full in her face and screamed ‘You are undermining the bourgeoisie’.”
Bardot turned away from films because of her love of animals. She established her Foundation For The Protection of Distressed Animals in the mid-1970s. In 1987, she founded The Brigitte Bardot Foundation For The Welfare And Protection Of Animals. Her work has led to Europe banning the importation of seal fur and the French government banning ivory imports.
“Animals have never betrayed me. They are an easy prey, as I have been throughout my career. So, we feel the same. I love them.”
Here’s the bad part: Bardot has also had to appear before the French courts over the years for making anti-Muslim remarks. Partly she was protesting the ritual slaughtering of sheep by Muslims as part of the festival of Eid al-Adha. In the 21st century, she has faced French judges five times for allegedly inciting racial hatred and paid a lot of money in fines to the government.
Bardot denies reports that she is prejudiced against LGBTQ people, claiming her best friends, as well as most of the men working for her, are gay:
“Apart from my husband, who maybe will cross over one day as well, I am surrounded by gays. For years they have been my support, my friends, my adopted children, my confidantes. Homosexuals are human beings like any other with qualities and faults.”
But, in her memoir A Cry In The Silence (2012), Bardot writes:
“Gays jiggle their bottoms, put their little fingers in the air and with their little castrato voices moan about what those ghastly heteros put them through.”
Bardot is being honored on her birthday with an 8 foot statue in Sainte-Tropez where she filmed And God Created Woman. She moved in 1958 and has lived in a villa there ever since. The statue will live in front of the local film museum, Le Musée de la Gendarmerie et du Cinéma.
Now a recluse, Bardot will not attend the dedication ceremony herself, instead sending her husband Bernard d’Ormale. Nevertheless, she handwrote a note to the citizens of Sainte Tropez:
“With tears in my eyes, I’m writing to you all to say a big thank you from me for giving me this immense honor of a magnificent statue that immortalizes the woman that God created in Saint Tropez!!”