Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bardot, Boisrond and Come Dance With Me

Among the most fascinating films of Brigitte Bardot’s legendary career, 1959's Voulez-vous danser avec moi is an ambitious if ultimately flawed attempt from director Michel Boisrond that still stands as one of Bardot’s most valuable works. Working from a Kelley Roos novel entitled The Blonde Died Dancing, Boisrond and his screenwriters bravely attempted to capitalize on Bardot's already proven comedic skills by mixing them with elements of both drama and mystery. The result would be mostly ignored at the time but, in hindsight, Come Dance With Me is clearly one of Bardot’s most interesting films and one of the most undervalued studio-produced French productions of the fifties.

Brigitte Bardot and Michel Boisrond were far from strangers by the time they made Come Dance with Me in 1959. Boisrond, a former assistant to both Jean Cocteau and Rene Clair, had already directed Bardot twice as the fifties gave way to the sixties, first on the Vadim scripted That Naughty Girl in 1956 and then on 1957’s The Parisian. The two had a good working relationship and Bardot was comfortable with Boisrond, a fact that would make her work with him all the more memorable. Come Dance With Me is far and away the best of their first three films together, a fitfully funny and captivating mystery that doesn’t make a wrong move until its frustrating final act.

Telling the story of a young bride named Virginie (Bardot) who is helping her husband Herve clear his name of the murder of a dancer who had been blackmailing him, Come Dance With Me is a competent and unfussy film driven by Bardot’s graceful and intelligent performance. Joining Bardot for Boisrond’s often surprising romp is Henri Vidal as her troubled husband, Dawn Addams as the conniving and doomed dancer Anita Flores and Serge Gainsbourg in a small but memorable role as the smooth-talking Leon.

Come Dance With Me was an important film for both Boisrond and Bardot and the director wanted to do something special for his favorite leading lady. He commented at the time that while their first two films together had been, “pure comedy” he, “wanted a change” with Come Dance With Me, in that he finally wanted to make a, “suspense film with some comedy touches.” To his credit Boisrond was one of the first directors, outside of Vadim, that knew that Bardot possessed something very special as an actress. He would say that she was one of just a few who could truly, “combine humour and drama”, and Bardot certainly doesn’t disappoint in Come Dance With Me.

While it might be hard to see what much of the controversy was about, Come Dance With captured the wrath of the censors outside of France. Boisrond’s film is indeed quite a daring little production for 1959, especially considering it was studio guided. While Addams topless scene (performed by a possible body-double) and the films final section in a gay nightclub must have raised many eyebrows in the late fifties, Come Dance With Me’s most daring moment comes in a tremendous scene between Bardot and Vidal, in which BB is in bed with the handsome man clearly admiring and enjoying his body and the promised sex they will soon be having. In a period where the idea that women might enjoy and want sex as much as men was still shocking to many, Bardot’s obvious delight at Vidal's body is still a refreshing and captivating moment. It’s also an interesting way for Boisrond to turn the table on an audience who were there for the most part to admire Bardot’s famous figure.

Come Dance With Me is also briefly trailblazing in the way that it presents homosexuality on the screen during a moving sequence between Bardot and Philippe Nicaud, who admits that while he finds her attractive he is only interested in men. Sadly Boisrond’s seeming acceptance of Nicaud as a positive character in the film is destroyed by the unfortunate final act that stereotypes his character as something perverse and corrupt. The films final denouncement is such a shame as for awhile Come Dance With Me seems downright revolutionary, but it finally turns out to be very much a product of its prejudiced time.

Problems aside, Come Dance With Me is for the most part quite a wonderful production. Directed well by the always competent Boisrond and featuring the wonderfully colorful photography of Robert Lefebvre, Come Dance With Me is the kind of studio-driven production most of the New Wave would have rejected but it’s aged extremely well.

Despite all of the qualities present on screen in Come Dance With Me, the film was marked by tragedy. The original choice for the character of Anita Flores, Italian actress Sylvia Lopez, had tragically died of leukaemia just before shooting began and Henri Vidal passed away shortly after the film wrapped. Making matters even worse was the fact that Bardot, who had shot an amazing two-dozen films in just over a five-year period, was completely exhausted and extremely depressed. Come Dance With Me, despite having an effortless feel about it, was an extremely difficult production for all involved so it’s a wonder that, for the most part, it came together so beautifully.

Come Dance With Me wasn’t one of Bardot’s bigger hits of the fifties with audiences, most of whom probably didn’t know whether to take it as a comedy or a thriller. Critical opinion was mixed with The Monthly Film Bulletin praising it as a, “colorful policier boasting a few neat twists and surprises”, while the ever-irritated Bosley Crowther wrote in the New York Times that it was a, “shoddy piece of mystery.” Also, in what has to be one of the most idiotic statements ever printed, Esquire critic Dwight MacDonald said of the breathtaking Bardot, “her face has been reduced to the sexual essentials and is, objectively considered, by now rather terrifying.”

Typical dubious critical reaction aside, Bardot’s performance in Come Dance With Me is enlightening, potent and finally poetic. Moving from scene to scene with the grace of an obvious dancer, and the charisma of someone near alien, Bardot is as captivating to watch today as she was over fifty years ago when Come Dance With Me was released. The symbolic end to the first part of her career, Bardot would follow Boisrond’s splendid mystery up with her stunning role in Clouzot’s The Truth, and within just a few years would leave all of cinema spellbound with her turn in Godard’s Contempt. She would only work with Michel Boisrond, who never stopped working up till his death in 2002, on the relatively obscure anthology film Famous Love Affairs in 1961. While not one of Bardot’s more well known directors Boisrond was one of the most important, as he was one of the first to see the vibrant poetry underneath the obvious sex.


dfordoom said...

I bought that movie recently on DVD. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm becoming and more of a Bardot fan.

Jeremy Richey said...

Glad to hear that D. I hope you will keep checking out her work (and I hope more of it keeps becoming availble).

dfordoom said...

Jeremy, at the moment World Movies in Australia is screening a season of Bardot films on cable so I'm in the happy position of having a huge backlog of her movies to watch!