Love on a Pillow was the fourth and final film that Roger Vadim made with Brigitte Bardot. Together they had created the uniquely French sex symbol that was Bardot in the 1956 movie And God Created Woman and with this slightly eccentric feature they said their cinematic farewell.
The story goes that Vadim first saw Bardot on the cover of Elle that he had ripped off to make a paper airplane. The 15-year-old model made such an impression on him that he sought her out. Two years later, in late 1952, she turned 18 which allowed the couple to marry and Bardot to begin her career as a screen actress. Through the early Fifties she started to build up a star-billing in France, even acting in a few British films, but it was the first film directed by her husband that made her a global superstar.
And God Created Woman used wide-screen, colour and Method actors to craft a saleable product like popular American films, but it was Bardot’s astonishing beauty, sensuality and free-spiritedness that lifted it into an international phenomenon. Set in San Tropez, Bardot’s character gets a group of men hot under the collar with her kittenish beauty and headstrong personality. The film also marked the end of Bardot and Vadim’s marriage, nonetheless they went on to make Heaven Fell That Night in 1958 and the amusingly titled Please, Not Now! in 1961.
Made in 1962, Love on a Pillow is based on the 1958 best-seller by feminist author, Christiane Rochefort. Brigitte Bardot is once more a lovely young thing with a complicated love life. She is Geneviève Le Theil who has recently inherited a spacious Paris flat, a nice pile of money and some a small mansion in the city of Dijon. When she travels to Dijon to clear up the inheritance, she finds an overdosed man in the hotel room she has mistaken for her own. She saves his life and somehow ends up looking after him when he is discharged from hospital.
Rochefort’s novel was titled Le Repos du Guerrier or The Warrior’s Rest, and was supposedly based on the Greek myth of Orpheus who tries to rescue his wife Eurydice from the underworld. In this case it is the man who is brought back from the dead: Renaud Sarti (played by Robert Hossein), a former soldier and current nihilist. Initially he finds himself as the pet of the wealthy and beautiful Geneviève, but the tables turn after she falls for him.
What starts off as an happy, if largely bed-bound relationship, turns into a fraught one. The cheeky but charming Renaud does help Geneviève leave her restricted middle-class upbringing behind, but he also turns out to be a serious drinker. Not even landing a girlfriend like Bardot is enough to make him sort himself out.
Two factors make the film is a little strange. Firstly, the combination of the ‘existentialist’ and ‘feminist’ dialogue (that must have its origin in Rochefort’s book) with the camera’s slightly too obvious fascination with Bardot. One minute there is an exchange like this, he: “Life in this earth is pointless” her: “Speak for yourself” he: “I am” and the next minute Bardot is gently toasting her naked breasts by the fire.
The other slightly dippy thing about Love on a Pillow is its ‘Sixtiesness’. The film may have been made at the very beginning of the decade but a beatnik party, naked hoovering and the couple’s week in bed are all speak of the liberalising of attitudes. The party, in particular, is great fun. After a night spent drinking at a bar, our heroes join a bunch of jazz musicians (who later supply the music) at the flat/studio of Katov, a sculptor (played by the hulking and volcano-voiced James Robertson Justice). At the party Bardot has her back fondled by another man (surely signifying something more), her boyfriend does a bit of impromptu plumbing and then some sculpting, and another party goer is so stoned he can barely talk.
Rather than ask if is Bardot any good in this film, it’s more accurate to say that she is simply ‘Bardot’ once more. The screen legend is said to be a joint creation of Brigitte Bardot and Jean Vadim. He first saw her star potential and asked her to dye her hair blonde, and it was he who supposedly saw the potential of incorporating her persona into her films. Once the formula was perfected, she rarely departed from it. The role of Geneviève must have been familiar enough for Bardot, as it traced her own voyage from prim middle-class girl to uninhibited Sixties woman, all the while strutting about with a perma-pout that hypnotises any unsuspecting male who crosses her path.
Love on a Pillow may not have caught the attention of international audiences as her first outing with Vadim had, and it may not be as artistically ground-breaking as Le Mépris (directed by Jean-Luc Godard), but it is a little off the wall and rather enjoyable for it.