Review by David Morrison
For Love on a Pillow, Roger Vadim teamed up once more with Brigitte Bardot, the global sex symbol he helped to create, again displaying a fascination with the singular erotic power of Bardot’s naked flesh.
Genevieve Le Thiel (Bardot), an upper class Paris girl from the right side of the tracks, travels to Dijon to collect an inheritance. On arrival, however, Genevieve wanders into the wrong hotel room, where she discovers a young man who has attempted suicide, Renaud Sarti (Hossein). Genevieve saves Renaud’s life and visits him in the hospital, where she finds him unexpectedly discharged into her care. Soon, Genevieve is deeply entangled with the troubled alcoholic, despite the objections of her fiancée and family disapproval. Renaud rejects bourgeois values, is self-destructive, cruel and frequently humiliates Genevieve, yet she finds herself partially liberated by the passion between them, partially ensnared. Genevieve, now dangerously in love, feels she must stay the course wherever it may lead and whatever the consequences…
Hailing from the era of the French New Wave, Vadim’s film of obsessive, volatile love strives to be stylish and fresh, to encapsulate the feeling of a more sexually liberated youth, a rebellion against bourgeois cinema and conventional mores. Whilst it may have been considered risqué in its day, if only for the glimpses of flesh and relaxed morals displayed, the film appears fairly conventional by today’s standards, though it still contains moments of erotic frisson and unusual stylistic techniques.
In fact, the film is strongest when it combines its sense of style – a mobile camera, deliberate framing and changing of focus, an abrupt use of sound and music – at the service of sexual fantasy or charged attraction. For example, an early restaurant sequence sees the camera cut to Renaud’s face in close-up, zoom in, pan to Genevieve, before zooming out and cutting to a longer shot. This is soon followed by close-ups of different parts of Genevieve’s face – her eyes, lips, and side profile. The scene succeeds in conveying the first sense of a lustful magnetism, yet the technique still feels a touch clunky and forced.
Many of the deliberately noticeable stylistic touches feel as if Vadim is keen to emulate certain traits of Jean-Luc Godard, yet this film has none of Godard’s skill in pulling it off. Godard (at least in this era anyway) manages to employ style to make critical comments, to make cinema the subject, and yet he still succeeds in making us care about his subjects’ emotions. Unfortunately Vadim doesn’t manage any of the above, and his cause isn’t helped by the run of the mill acting and characterisation.
Neither of the main protagonists feels terribly convincing, with Renaud predictably ‘shocking’ at times, while Genevieve supposedly undergoes a transformation, yet signals very little of this change in her performance. But then who watches Bardot films for their strong characterisation? With the exception of Godard’s Contempt, which makes far greater use of the actress’ talents, Bardot is usually employed primarily as a sex bomb, an icon of womanhood that managed to divide contemporary opinion as to whether she empowered or just stereotyped. Vadim clearly relishes Bardot’s fantasy element, resulting in some striking scenes involving a log fire and, later, the welding of a piece of sculpture at a party intercut with shots of an orgiastic Bardot. As the windswept ending clearly indicates, this is a film that is quite happy to appear literally overblown.
Out own on DVD and EST on 19th March, 2012.
DVD Tech specs: Cert: 15 / Feature Running Time: 98 min approx / Region 2 / Feature Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 / Colour PAL / Audio: 2.0 Mono / French language with English Subtitles / Cat No: OPTD1219 / RRP: £15.99