Celebrating its 50th anniversary this week is the curiously titled Love on a Pillow.
(Its original title, Le Repos du Gerrier, or Warrior's Rest, made no sense either.) Also curious is the fact of celebration at all; this is not a particularly engrossing or memorable film, neither boasting a plot that lasts the distance — note that said distance is just 98 minutes — nor spectacular performance.
Still, there is something watchable about this self-destructive love story, it somehow plants a mild interest in what will become of its central character, an upper-class Parisienne dragged out of her comfort zone, played by that most recognisable 60s siren: Brigitte Bardot.
there is something watchable about this self-destructive love story
Based upon the bestselling book by French feminist writer Christiane Rochefort, what is absolutely key to this story — which is considerably watered down here — is the change in this character, Geneviève Le Theil, and her helplessness as a result.
So, our introductory scenes, Geneviève preparing for a trip to Dijon to settle an inheritance from her aunt, underline her strongest traits: she's feisty, forthright, impatient and highly organised. An engagement on the horizon is not particularly exciting to her, believing herself an extremely independent young woman. Her plan is to use the large sum to become a businesswoman, the nature of which she vaguely refers to as something she can enjoy. Geneviève won't be satisfied simply being somebody's wife.
Arriving in Dijon, she mistakenly enters the incorrect hotel room, to find a man comatose after a suicide attempt. This man is Renaud Sarti (Robert Hossein), who subsequently attaches himself to Geneviève, turning the young woman's world upside down in the process.
the film's weakest point makes itself clear: Bardot's performance
It's a frustrating story at points. At first, Geneviève's attraction to Renaud is understandable: grateful for his rescue, he woos her the conventional way, complimenting her beauty and taking her on a dinner date, his rebellious nature an interesting quirk, not yet harmful. She misses her train, so distracted is she by his charm, and here is where the film's weakest point makes itself clear: Bardot's performance.
Failing to make her train, for the first time in her life, really ought to see the actress play it less nonchalantly, if we are to believe the establishment of her character in the initial scenes. In fact Bardot shows little range throughout, and one can't help but think that there is a much better film for the finding, if only for a different star.
As such, the point at which Geneviève ponders how much she has changed in just 10 days with Renaud is supported mostly by the messiness of her apartment. Sure, the screenplay indicates other changes, the missing of phone calls and the like, but you'd never know it by performance alone. Even when Geneviève snaps, having had enough of being stomped over by her lover, what is intended as an impactive scene (the young woman smashing the room up) has little effect.
Within the story it is not intended to – Renaud watching impassively as a true sociopath would – but for the viewer, this is a scene that demonstrates just how dependent Geneviève has become and is indeed the whole point of the story. She apologises on seeing that it has made no difference to Renaud. She simply doesn't know what to do from here, naturally reverting to her man. This, in strong contrast to the woman she once was, who didn't need one. Yet Bardot's expression doesn't really change, never showing any of this inner conflict.
But, as stated earlier, there is still something watchable here. This is mostly due to Hossein, whose casual disrespect is very believable, as is his balance of charm and caddishness; without him, the entire film would be a waste of time. Yet, this is still not enough to really justify a purchase, as the release itself isn't exactly dynamite, either.
Some of the subtitles are missing, which is unforgivable. Sure, a smidgeon of French recalled from school all those years ago means this isn't a huge problem, but an anniversary edition should be a flawless affair, and the lack of any extras is puzzling. All a tad pointless, as is the film itself.
Naila Scargill is editor and publisher of Exquisite Terror, an academic take on the filmic horror genre. www.exquisiteterror.com