The face of Brigitte Bardot reminds us of our crimes.
Bardot’s face is not in the first scene of Le Mépris (an iconic piece of late French New Wave/ Meta-Cinema set on Capri, directed by Jean-Luc Goddard, 1963). As she utters the first words spoken by a woman in the film ('I don’t know') we stare at her body, naked and prostrate beside a clothed and covered man, as she asks: ‘see my feet in the mirror? do you think they’re pretty? … you like my ankles?’ she lists her body parts asking, each time, ‘do you like?’, ‘which do you prefer my breasts, or my nipples?’ She offers to get on her knees. Suddenly the scene switches to glorious Technicolor as we’re taken on a trip down her body like a Hemingway landscape; tawny thighs become a soft but firm terrain awaiting a macho explorer who will conquer them. As the scene draws to its close, she asks: ‘and my face?’ - the scene turns blue - ‘my mouth, my eyes, my nose my ears?’ She lists and seeks approval like an unnerving sex-child- her face reminds us of our crimes.
Bardot’s face seems like an afterthought in the scene and yet, Bardot’s face is her body. We easily recognize her now iconic features: a mop of yellow hair, a perfect little ski-slope nose, outrageously full lips and furious black-lined eyes. The animalism of the ‘cat-eye’ descriptor should not be overlooked - the make-up technique codes her as wild and unknowable. The alluring revealed shoulder of the ‘bardot’ style blouse that floods the high-street today codes the word ‘bardot’ itself as the seduction of naked shoulders, somehow always undressed, the constant availability of skin (she asks her lover: ‘do you like my shoulders? I don’t think they’re round enough.’) A constancy of skin, and available nakedness is her sartorial legacy - or could it be her doom?
Bardot stepped momentarily out of the shadows this year to denounce the #metoo movement as "hypocritical and ridiculous". But her face tells us why we need it. The image above from Le Mépris writes large the very agonized compromise of the woman objectified. Her headband suggests the image of delectable purity, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. The blue of the band, the yellow of her hair suggest most perfectly Vermeer’s image of sexual ingénue. Both women look over their right shoulders in the ubiquitous motion that we read as what Robin Thicke (nice name) would call a ‘blurred line’. But Bardot has no redemptive pearl to signify her glowing innocence. Her lips do not part, so that you know that they would open. Her mouth, yonic and full though it is, is closed and sullen. Her cat eyes are pearls of rage. She is angry, but the complexities of her coding render her merely petulant, childish.
How can it be that this is definitively alluring? The woman is unhappy, but it is her unhappiness, her pouting, sullen mouth and defiant eyes that deliver the frisson. Anyone can be gorgeous, but can you make us feel like we’re violating you but not feel too bad about it? As the object of the camera’s turgid gaze Bardot has no choice - and here we have our problem, and we like it. Infantilised and unwilling, her face is a turn on - some resistance but probably not much: a ‘blurred line’. Her beauty, which is evident and abundant, isn’t what defines Bardot or indeed what traps her. Her cheek bones, the poise of her head, the fact that she’s looking at all make her a confection to be devoured, she is made all the sweeter for her fury.
The film opens as she asks her lover simply to respond to her litany of beautiful parts (because, she’s vain, right?)- he need not list them himself, he’s tired (probably), he obliges. At last she asks about her face, as though she is repairing a dismantled clock, she finishes with the face, and we know what clocks tell (#timesup).
Roland Barthes said: the face of Garbo is an idea. I say: the face of Bardot is an indictment. A mask (as Barthes would put it), a hieroglyph of sexuality and desire, an overripe and furious young object. Now an ageing recluse frequently maligned for how cruel time has been to her (there’s that clock again), it feels somehow fitting that she would reject the too late calls to arms of a 21st Century Feminist movement: Bardot might prefer the hashtag: #IWas.