In 1973, notorious French director and provocateur Roger Vadim said "The Don Juan of our day is a woman -- Brigitte Bardot in real life." Vadim was addressing his past muse (indeed one of the very reasons he became famous) as the ultimate feminist of the last 20 years -- and that great man, the topmost gallic pro-woman confessional cad, was absolutely right.
Vadim helped catapult Bardot into the world, as the ultimate sex kitten/lioness/ woman/child in the explosive ...and God Created Woman (1956), and 16 years later he cast her as the ultimate woman/man/female/Errol Flynn in Don Juan (or if Don Juan were a woman). Was he successful? Yes indeed -- but really only because Bardot, the woman and star, was the true auteur of the picture. And Vadim, smart, savvy and woman-loving man that he was, absolutely allowed this. She was Don Juan, or rather, Warren Beatty at that point of her life -- preferring flings to marriage, sunning in Saint Tropez, allowing her second husband custody of their child (unthinkable!) and letting herself age (how dare she!). You see some of that age in Don Juan, a movie shot with unremarkable, almost soft-core sensibilities, though boasting some terrific 70s sets and BB nude, but and older BB is ever-sexy, ever-powerful, ever-Bardot.
Following her character Jeanne on a series of sexual conquests as she relays them to her cousin/priest (lucky priest); she coolly discusses her dalliances, first with Pierre (Maurice Ronet), a married, influential government man. When she gleefully watches a photographer snap his picture at a drunken student orgy (gotta have a student orgy), his personal and professional life is ruined. Next is the humiliation of the boorish Prevost (Robert Hossein), married to the young, vulnerable Clara (Jane Birkin-- yes! Two Serge girls together!). She ensnares him through Clara, enticing the girl to bed, setting it up so Prevost discovers such a dreamy scenario, only to reject his gluttonous desire to join them. "Je T'aime ... Moi Non Plus" indeed -- throw Joe Dallesandro into the mix and we'd have a real party.
A woman whom Simone de Beauvoir claimed could tempt a saint, it's not surprising that Bardot, with the assistance of her ex husband Vadim, the pimp-like svengali he's unfairly purported to be by some (I bless the lord for him -- no Vadim, perhaps no BB and no Barbarella for that matter) make Don Juan such an intriguing look at both the force of female power and then, perhaps in weaker moments, female desire to be a man. And yes, there are women who would like to be a man, at least a few days a week -- this writer being one of them. A summation of just how feminist (in the better sense of the word) Bardot really was, the film is fascinating when viewed as her bawdy last gasp before cinematic retirement. She's still lovely, still charismatic and still lush lipped, kohl-eyed Bardot bleeding all over the screen, through and through -- and she's one convincing Don Juan at that. To use a common phrase, she is still a force of nature.
When the picture was released, some critics complained that Bardot appeared bored and uninspired, and amidst Vadim's somewhat flat landscape, she is a little sullen. But then, pouty annoyance is one of her strong points -- it works. It's almost as if she's not making this movie to prove herself to the world, but she's making this movie because she just feels like it that month. And if one day she's irritated by her past husband's direction, well, c'est la vie. She remains gorgeous, bewitching, mysterious, cunning and interestingly human in her conclusion to Bardotlatry.
As Vadim noted, "It was probably her last chance to keep making movies because she'd grown too old to continue playing Brigitte Bardot. But she understood that too. That's why she stopped making movies." She did. Which may seem wrong or ageist towards herself and even undermining her acting ability, but again, BB was probably just sick of making movies. And so she let herself age, and without surgery. And now she's frequently deemed a controversial nutter. Some even recoil at her face (the ultimate sun loving sex kitten is a hag!), even though it was that very lifestyle men so desired -- bikini on the beach, ciggies, wine, sex and song, that helped line it so. Again, this is a feminist -- not Naomi Wolf and her tedious "Beauty Myth," or all those sensitive men who lust on and on about Helen Mirren (who is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong) but tell me you want some old Anita Pallenberg action and then I'd be impressed -- that's beyond the "acceptable" (and perhaps, natural) desire for the "older gal." And like Ms. Pallenbger, BB's face says, fuck you, this is me. She may not be a supple young thing anymore, and most of us prefer to look at and remember iconic BB, but she handles it.
I’d just love to see her all smoker’s cough smiling a la Keith Richards, enjoying her age and wisdom and past beauty. Bikers gracefully grow old -- or rather into calmer versions of craggy, kicking and screaming spitfires, and as controversial as she is, so should BB. With that in mind, I wonder what a BB, Keith reprise of the great Bardot biker ode “Harley Davidson” would be like? For now, take in the original (written by Gainsbourg for her off-the-charts fantastic TV special).
Watching this again, and thinking further about Don Juan, I credit Vadim even more for taking his pretty maids, all in a row, and appreciating who they were. As Vadim said, "From the moment I liberated Brigitte, the moment I showed her how to be truly herself, our marriage was all downhill." Many could read this as contemptuous or quite sexist, but since Vadim and Bardot shared a friendship well after their marriage, it's more that Vadim understood Bardot would have to come before anything else. And of course Bardot liberated herself, but even the man who dished on BB, Deneuve and Fonda in the fantastic "Memoirs of the Devil" (which boasts one of my favorite book jackets covers of all time) got it. She is her own work of art.