Love on a Pillow (Le Repos du Guerrier) is a stormy romance film from 1962 starring Brigitte Bardot. Miss Bardot, 29 years of age when the film was released, plays Geneviève, an upper class Parisian heiress who has it all; beauty, money, self assurance and a devoted fiancé. Yet, the confident preconceptions she has of her identity and desires are entirely disrupted when she takes a trip to arrange her inheritance.
She enters the wrong room in her hotel and discovers Renaud (Robert Hossein) in the midst of a suicide attempt. She visits him in hospital, he calls her his ‘angel’ and they fall in love. Not a healthy, happy sort of love but an all-consuming, demanding sort that requires a change of identity and denial of other elements in life.
Bardot lets her hair down, literally, and it is openly symbolic of her transgression from a ‘lady’ to a sexual deviant. She jilts her fiancé, doesn’t ring her mother and lets her normally pristine flat turn awry. This is not before she cleans naked upon request of her controlling lover, who will ignore her if she won’t submit to his demands. The director, Bardot’s ex-husband Roger Vadim, doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of how enviably photogenic Miss Bardot is.
In some way presumably, her passionate, spontaneous love affair and confinement to her flat for endless days alone with her lover is the ultimate romance. Her sexual awakening is liberating, and all that. Yet, it just feels claustrophobic to watch. Perhaps this is intentional, and Vadim is suggesting that love comes in all different forms, that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ love. Or, that the best love is the kind that defies convention. Still though, it instils a sense of unease and frustration.
Hossein is a handsome, charming and creative figure, but he is troubled and self destructive for unclear reasons. He is distant and gruff with her and spends his days drinking and reading crime novels that she brings him. He is reckless, and on one occasion makes a pass at a prostitute in front of her. On the advice of someone close to him: “he is in love with you, but he is testing you”, she stands by the man she loves.
Part of the film is shot in beautiful Florence. The couple share a romantic meal overlooking the Italian countryside, only for the nihilistic gent to ruin it once again by shouting at the Italian playing the violin for them. It’s draining to watch. Eventually, at the film’s climax, he desperately falls onto his knees and pleads for her hand in marriage.
It’s down to opinion whether this is a happy ending or not. Frankly, despite the relationship’s tempestuous, destructive nature being the result of such intense love and passion the affair becomes tedious after twenty minutes and the rest is as exasperating and boring as it must be for Geneviève to endure. She is supposedly finding herself and being true to her desires by denying other responsibilities and exploring her identity, but we essentially watch a once dignified and independent woman morph into a desperate figure dwelling in the loneliness of her love. You just want to say: ‘for god’s sake, he’s not worth it love’. Coming to think of it, the film wasn’t either.
Love on a Pillow is re-released on DVD March 19th.