Love on a Pillow Review
Love on a Pillow was the big screen adaptation of Christiane Rochefort’s debut novel, Le Repos de guerrier. Published in 1958, at a time when Rochefort was best known as a journalist and for being the press secretary for the Cannes Film Festival, the novel met immediate success and became a best-seller in France. It led to a career as one of the country’s leading feminist writers, garnering many an award and willing to discuss many a contentious or controversial subject. By all accounts, Love on a Pillow’s source is a rich piece of work, though you maybe wouldn’t know that going by the film itself. The novel concerned itself with the relationship between a man who has attempted suicide and the woman who rescues him. They begin an affair: she achieves orgasm for the first time in her life and he reveals himself to be a haunted ex-soldier obsessed by Hiroshima and something of a sociopath. His erratic behaviour infuriates her, yet she is unable to leave. The relationship is thus rendered as power struggle, its tensions dark and ambiguous.
Bringing the novel to the screen - as both writer and director - was Roger Vadim, the man responsible for And God Created Woman who would also later be responsible for the big screen outing of Barbarella. He had a habit of putting his wives in his pictures, sometimes even his ex-wives, and Love on a Pillow was no different. This was the third of four collaborations with Brigitte Bardot, even though, by the time of its making, they’d been divorced a number of years. (He had even married and divorced again in that time, to Annette Stroyberg, who’d acted for him in Les Liaisons dangereuses and Blood and Roses, and he’d had a child with Catherine Deneuve, future star of his Le Vice et la virtu.) The earlier Vadim-Bardot pictures were fairly lightweight entertainments leavened by the quality of her co-stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant in And God Created Woman; Alida Valli and Fernando Rey in Les Bijoutiers du Claire de lune. The former, of course, was the film that made Bardot the sensation she was, and in part this was owing to Vadim’s understanding of how to use her on the screen. The roles weren’t particularly demanding, but they suited her perfectly.
It would take other filmmakers to use Bardot to fuller effect, most notably Godard in Le Mépris and Henri-Georges Clouzot in La Vérité (which, coincidentally, was written in part by Rochefort). In truth, such a director is required for Love on a Pillow. It needs to be something more than flimsy and populist in order to do the novel - or rather its seriousness - justice. Released in 1962 it understandably had difficulties in discussing the female orgasm or delving into the consequences of Hiroshima, though that doesn’t excuse the lack of depth we witness here. The plot essentials are the same - Bardot enters the wrong hotel room (having mistaken ‘six’ for ‘dix’) and discovers Robert Hussain in time to save his life, thus instigating their relationship - but it all feels so wishy-washy and underdeveloped. Nothing quite convinces, whether it’s his alcoholism or her reasons for staying (and calling of the engagement to her previous boyfriend).
The problem finds its root in Vadim’s focus on the visual. In the case of a film like Barbarella, this never becomes an issue - it suits the high camp gloss of it all. But in a film supposedly concerned with a particularly messy relationship we need something more than an emphasis on overhead shots or a fondness for using a diopter. It may result in the odd stylish moment - the break-up between Bardot and her former lover is done extremely well, thanks to single take and car doors opening and closing thus rendering parts of the dialogue mute - yet this only points up the blandness. It doesn’t particularly matter is Bardot looks terrific in a shot if we never particularly care about her character; pretty pictures can only go so far. Furthermore, Vadim’s use of suggestive nudity when it comes to Bardot seems particularly ill-advised. Certainly, it no doubt helped bring some parts of the audience in, but objectifying your former wife in an adaptation of a piece of feminist literature which seeks to understand female sexuality is surely missing the point! (Needless to say, he also fudges the ending.)
Equally vacuous is the depiction of the circles Hussain runs in: various drop-outs, artists, musicians and hangers-on which allow Vadim to further indulge in the style-over-substance. Cue quick cut scenes of random couplings, improv jazz sessions and Hussain getting moody/making Bardot moody. A sculptor pal is played by James Robertson Justice, who is the only thing about these scenes that doesn’t strike the audience as obvious. In fact it’s downright strange to see the actor in such circumstances, all the more so when uttering lines like “Leave her the fuck alone” in French. He comes away from the film with some dignity, as does Jean-Marc Bory as the ex-fiancé, but they’re the lucky few. Sadly, Love on a Pillow is too lightweight to have much in the way of impact. It looks pretty but there’s little going on inside.
Funnily enough, the same can be said for the disc. Here we find a perfectly good transfer adorned by nothing whatsoever: no trailer, no anything beyond the choice of switching the English subtitles on or off. The disc, single-layered, presents Love on a Pillow in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and utilises a source that it pleasingly damage- and blemish-free. The colours are strong, the contrast levels equally so, and the clarity is just fine for a standard definition transfer. The soundtrack, which offers up the original French mono in DD2.0 format, is similarly without issue and remains crisp and clear throughout. Indeed, the stylish excesses of Vadim are perfectly rendered, it’s just a shame there’s no way of adding some meat to the bones.