Pillow Talk: Roger Vadim’s Love on a Pillow

There has just been a realignment of the cinematic celestial orbs. You remember James Robertson Justice, the rotund, bearded character actor from a myriad British comedies of the 50s and 60s? The one that used to bellow irritably at Dirk Bogarde in various Doctor films? Truly Scrumptious’ Dad in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Yep, that’s the one. Well, I have just watched a film in which James Robertson Justice utters the line “Leave her the fuck alone”! Admittedly it was a subtitle, and I have my doubts that the French words on the soundtrack were not actually spoken by JRJ, but it still came as a bit of a shock to hear such profanity from the lips of the Establishment. It’s OK. I’m fine now.

What was the film? Well, those nice people at Studio Canal have dug deep into their vaults again to prise yet another vintage flick from the fingers of obscurity. This time, it’s Love on a Pillow (Le Repos du Guerrier), a curio from 1962 written and directed by Roger Vadim. Vadim’s first film, And God Created Woman, had made a star out of his wife Brigitte Bardot, but had precipitated their divorce. This film was their third and final collaboration, made between Vadim fathering a child with Catherine Deneuve and getting married to Jane Fonda. I think we can safely assume that whatever “it” is, Roger Vadim had it.

Love on a Pillow begins with Genevieve (Bardot in prissy, buttoned-up guise) discovering an attempted suicide when she accidentally enters the wrong room in her hotel. Thwarted in his effort to end it all, Renaud (Robert Hossein) decides that maybe being saved by Brigitte Bardot is not such a horrendous fate and declares her to be the owner of his soul. Genevieve quickly recognises in this man an escape from the constrictive life she leads with her fiancé and bourgeoise mother, and embarks on a masochistic relationship.

The loosening of Genevieve’s ties to the bourgeoisie is neatly represented by the state of her hair. Beginning with a tightly bunned-up do, their first meal together has Renaud liberating a lock from its confines. Before you can say “Because you’re worth it”, Genevieve’s tresses are cascading over her shoulders and she’s warming her naked body in front of a crackling log fire. She also adopts a carefree attitude to punctuality and her housekeeping goes to pot. Her mother is naturally appalled. What she would say about the drug-fuelled partner-swapping parties is anyone’s guess.

The film is most interesting in its attempt to shoehorn comment about male-female battlelines into a Bardot vehicle. Renaud treats Genevieve disdainfully, yet each provocation only seems to deepen her desire for him. Bardot was never exactly pin-up girl for the feminist movement, and this film’s depiction of female subservience does run against the grain of the time. At one point a female character is casually but brutally slapped by her boyfriend, an action which the Bardot character thinks is justified.

Defiantly rejecting the stylistic tics of the French New Wave and the working-class preoccupations of the British New Wave, Vadim appears to have taken his inspiration from the louche lifestyle of La Dolce Vita, especially in the party scene that would have become an orgy had it been filmed just a few years later. As it is, we have a bunch of disaffected people getting stoned while listening to languid jazz, pairing off with each other and muttering phrases like “Merde, c’est chouette!” – or, as the subtitles would have it: “Holy shit, it’s awesome!”

Love on a Pillow is not awesome but it is an intriguing attempt to concoct a more mature persona for Bardot, while still emphasising her allure. The script’s stabs at profundity may veer towards pretension, but Vadim fills the film with evidence of his star’s gorgeousness, and the photography has that irresistible glossy sheen so characteristic of the 60s. Superficial pleasures certainly, but pleasures nonetheless. Although perhaps less so for Germaine Greer.

Love on a Pillow is available on DVD now. Contributor Fintan McDonagh can be followed on Twitter @fintalloneword.

8 thoughts on “Pillow Talk: Roger Vadim’s Love on a Pillow

  1. UnaTucker

    Once again, Fintan McDonagh has worked his magic twofold: he has dusted off a archived film and shed enough light on it to make me want watch it immediately. Yes, I really want to see this movie, if only to match up Mr McDonagh’s witty and insightful comments to the events on-screen! La Bardot was never going to be an intellectual actress and Roger Vadim was very much a director of his time but the pair of them represented the collective change of hearts and minds that was the sexual and cultural revolution of the 60’s and 70’s. Of course it helped that there were divinely good looking and uber-cool, which meant that they themselves would stand the test of time, even when their films did not….

  2. Steve

    I have to see this! Reading between the lines, I suspect I may find it unwatchable, but again Fintan’s review makes it unmissable. The progress of Bardot’s hair is intriguing enough, not to mention James Robertson Justice’s potty mouth. And as for Mr McDonagh’s critique – any review that contains the word “louche” gets five stars from me!

    And I must add – my one cinematic strength is the ability to spot an allegory. It’s unnerving and I suspect I could do it blindfold. Brilliant then to watch the “merde, c’est chouette” jazz scene clip above and immediately recognise the spurious spot-welding as an allegory. And exhilarating to see said spot-welder then approach La Bardot with his finished work and declare, “I called it Don Quixote. It’s an allegory.” My work here is done.

    1. UnaTucker

      Hahahaha – one of the main marks of a worthy write-up is that the replies are also entertaining! I SO agree with Steve above when he rehighlights the lure of Brig’s wild locks and JRJ’s brief sojourn into Tourette’s. I must confess, I am not clever enough to spot cinematic allegories (unless they come brick in hand) and just thought thatthe impromptu welding was either (a) marijuana-induced creativity (lucky for him that all that equipment was left lying around) or (b) a desperate attempt to stave off “the munchies”. I do LOVE the French prediliction for throwing in deeply intellectual and/or artistic commentary amidst hedonistic drink, drugs and sex (or at least implied – after all, they had hairdos to maintain) it is so “Cat amongst the pigeons” (oh my, am I slipping into another allegory??)…

  3. Fintan McDonagh Post author

    Many of the best parties I’ve been to have involved a spot of welding. And occasionally an impromptu allegory.
    But it’s true what they say: if you remember the welding, then you weren’t really there.

    1. UnaTucker

      Mr McDonagh – it is a fair point you make re: “if you remember the welding, then you weren’t really there”. No doubt we all have our own hazy recollections of pot-fuelled, jazzy loft parties but far too few of us would have that lonely pretend-trumpet rift in our head or the allegorical Don Quixote metalwork hanging on our wall….I think Dick above – the blatant Francophile(!) – got it right that “en France” cinema IS the life and it always looks so much better than any reality, which is why we all love watching films. It’s a bit like the “on the outside looking in” experience that is the ever-fabulous Antiques Roadshow….

  4. Dick Dubry

    Ah Fintan, I see you are picking another French piece. Is because you hate the French eh? You Anglo Saxons are just so pragmatic! You are just jealous that in Anglo Saxon-land you cannot pretend to play a trumpet and have a beautiful woman fall in your arms…. or that you can have a friend round your house who likes welding? No, no, in Anglo Saxon-land a beautiful woman would shout, ‘hey take your pretend trumpet outside you bas****, and tell your welder friend to **** off.
    And my dear friend, en France, we think, we don’t play. The life is cinema and the cinema is the life, so Love on a pillow is just reality TV for us, or maybe like your Antiques Roadshow which I simply hate.

  5. Scott

    Unlike Steve (May 3, above) I am NOT adept at spotting allegory – I wouldn’t know my assonance from a hyberbole in the ground – so I watched most of the above clip with my mouth slightly open, a permanent crease in the bridge of my nose, and this slightly unnerving suspicion: clearly I’m not smart enough for anything haute.

    Still, it’s been my experience that the brightest people I know never make me feel stupid. Fade in on Mr. McDonagh. His writing always manages to get through to me. It’s consistently clever, creative, and compelling. What a treat, to read his reviews. It doesn’t seem to matter which film he has sunk his wisdom teeth into; he makes me interested in every one of them.


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