by Allan Fish
(France 1958 122m) DVD2/5 (France/Russia only)
Aka. Love is my Profession
She’s impulsive and loves sex
p Raoul Lévy d Claude Autant-Lara w Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost novel Georges Simenon ph Jacques Natteau ed Madeleine Gug m René Clourec art Max Douy
Jean Gabin (André Gobillot), Edwige Feuillère (Viviane Gobillot), Brigitte Bardot (Yvette Maudet), Franco Interlenghi (Mazzetti), Nicole Berger (Jeanine), Madeleine Barbulée (Bordenave), Julien Bertheau (Inspector), Mathilde Casededus (Anna), Jacques Clancy, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Annick Allières, Claude Magnier, Albert Rémy,
When it comes to entries like this, I know I must put my hands up and acknowledge that very few critics or commentators would find it so worthy. Essentially, it’s merely a well- packaged melodrama of its day, which drew people to it on account of its cast, especially that 5’7” of perfection that was Brigitte Bardot.
Then let’s cut forward over forty years to another film of the same Simenon tale, En Plein Coeur, starring one of the French starlets du jour, Virginie Ledoyen. It was lifeless, and Ledoyen, who the camera does love, just didn’t cut the ice. You can stick around and hope, but there will never ever be another Bardot. The cinema has given us many icons who rate a ‘10’ on the feminine perfection scale, but Bardot is the only one who would satisfy Nigel Tufnel and go up to ‘11’. Hot, sexy, alluring, pouting, you’re still doing her scant justice: Aphrodite herself would be green with envy.
BB plays Yvette Maudet, a 22 year old sometime prostitute who commits a horribly ill-thought out robbery at a Parisian horologists during a well-publicised visit to Paris from the Queen of Britain. Needless to say, it goes abysmally wrong, and she finds herself charged and allotted a counsel in the form of well-established fifty-something lawyer André Gabillot. She cannot really afford his services, so offers sexual favours as payment. At first he is not interested, but when he gets her off in a rather unethical manner, he decides to take payment and she is too happy to oblige. He sets her up in an apartment and she becomes his mistress, though she also maintains sexual relations with a young leather-jacketed hothead who becomes obsessed with her.
One of the reasons the film is perhaps ignored now is due to who directed it, a man generally dismissed as too literary and behind the times. Certainly it’s hardly the sort of radical film one might have expected from the burgeoning nouvelle vague, and very much the sort of film they might have loathed. Yet he was always a very tasteful director with a yen for melancholic tragedy and illicit love – see Douce, Sylvie et la Fântome, Le Diable au Corps, etc. Furthermore, just look at how inferior similar handlings of such subjects have been since. Do not underestimate the tasteful intelligence of writers like Aurenche and Bost, or the cool monochrome photography of Natteau.
At the time, most of the attention was focused on the divine BB’s nude scenes, and yet there is some irony to be had in the recollection that Feuillière, here memorable as Gabin’s abandoned wife, once bared more over 20 years previously in Gance’s Lucrezia Borgia. Gabin himself wasn’t interested in working with Bardot, who he did not consider an actress, but as it happens, he was enchanted by her and spoke highly of her after the shoot. It shows, because there’s a definite spark between the old master and his new object d’amour, icons both. One recalls his laugh when he holds a robe for BB as she comes naked out of a room, only for her to use the other door and walk in starkers to the consternation of his middle-aged secretary. Autant-Lara even gave his audience a brief breast shot at the end, but only of her as a blood-strewn corpse, having again a grisly last laugh at his audience. This is one of the great studies of romantic obsession, made so by his cast. Get the Russian DVD, as it has the infamous shot where Bardot shows Gabin that she goes commando uncut, one of the great “come and get it” flaunts in movie history. “Might as well, before they lock me up”, she says. I think there’s hardly a man alive who wouldn’t have risked the clink for just one chance. Come on, a guy’s only human!