Synopsis: For what was to become her last feature, Brigitte Bardot teamed up once again with the man who made her famous, Roger Vadim (… And God Created Woman). Bardot plays Jeanne, a proud destroyer of men who lives on board an ultra-mod submarine. As Jeanne confesses her sexual conquests to a priest, one can’t help but see Bardot as the sex symbol whose public persona was so often synonyms with the characters she portrayed.
eyelights: Jane Birken. JB x BB. its central conceit.
eyesores: its delivery. its blandness.
“Why seduce if you don’t destroy?”
It’s interesting that even today, a woman who is sexually rapacious or who treats men as sex objects is still subject to a variety of derogatory labels. It’s okay -if not expected- from the male of the species, but it’s not nearly as acceptable for a woman to behave that way.
So you can just imagine what it must have been like in 1973, when ‘Don Juan ou Si Don Juan était une femme…’ (or ‘Don Juan 73’) came out. Starring Brigitte Bardot in the lead, the Roger Vadim picture put a woman in the role of unrepentant seducer and heartbreaker.
It was a bold move by Vadim, who had worked with Bardot four times before and who wanted to finish a chapter of his career with the woman who had helped launch it. He wanted to make a statement about the progress that women had made in the 15 years since his debut.
It wasn’t well received.
Without tracking down and reading all the period reviews, it’s hard to know if the problem was archaic attitudes about sex or if it was just the quality of the film that damned it. But I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that people had issues with Bardot’s character.
Jeanne enjoys playing with men. This sexually-enticing maneater lives only for seducing men and then destroying their lives; it’s a game for her. She’s unscrupulous and selfish, with her ultimate personal satisfaction being her only goal and justifying the means.
But, one day, she asks Paul, an old friend and priest to listen to her confession: she believes that she killed a man. Though at first he refuses, he eventually relents and allows her to recount the stories of seduction that lead to the death of one of her lovers.
‘Don Juan 73’ essentially consists of three stories within a story, as Jeanne talks about preying on Pierre Gonzague and tearing his personal and public life apart, wedging herself between Louis Prévost and his young bride Clara and spellcasting a young guitarist.
Its third act consists of wrapping up Jeanne’s present (!) as she seduces Paul and a drunk and ragged Pierre resurfaces with demands of à final tête à tête with her. Weighed down by guilt, she invites the risk of her own destruction. But will she succumb, finally?
Frankly, I found the picture interesting but hodge-podgy. To me it appeared more like Vadim wanted to do anthology with the same character at its core, more so than a film proper. Plus which it’s chiefly focused on the first story to the detriment of the others.
The stories are explored less and less, with the third one being merely a sketch.
Plus which, I’ve rarely found Bardot enticing and even less so as she later became a poupée, a caricature of herself. So I really didn’t understand Jeanne’s appeal, this nearly-magical quality that charmed men into oblivion. I sat there incredulous as they all tumbled.
The picture has no heat, even in its sexier moment, so the picture unspooled blandly, with each bit merely being a display of Jeanne’s vastly unappealing personality. The only exception is when she seduces Clara, which finds Bardot naked in bed with Jane Birkin.
Jane Birkin is the picture’s main saving grace for me, being both delightful to look at and playing a sweeter character than all the rest. Beyond that there’s only the core conceit, which I like, and the finale, which finds Vadim basically destroying his own creation.
Coincidentally enough, ‘Don Juan 73’ was to be Bardot’s final film – aside for one small part.
Ultimately, ‘Don Juan ou Si Don Juan était une femme…’ is anything but a remarkable film. It misses its mark conceptually, as well as thematically, and doesn’t properly take advantage of its assets. It’s hardly the fitting swan song for a siren such as Brigitte Bardot.
Still, it probably was the right time to put an end to her career, which was built on sex and seduction; second-wave feminism was on the way. In that sense ‘Don Juan 73’ is the right vehicle in that it confronts her public image and completely incinerates it.
It’s a bold, defiant move.
But it leaves one with a mixed message: even though Vadim gives Jeanne a man’s freedom, ultimately his callous seductress is destroyed, ending with the message that women still aren’t allowed to act like men; they will be punished for their “transgressions”.
Combined with the lengthy close-up of Jeanne washing Paul’s hands, as Mary Magdalene washed Jesus’ feet, it’s a wonder if Vadim wanted to revere, forgive or punish Jeanne – and by extension Bardot. Despite his claimed intentions, even he seems conflicted.
It says a lot about women’s sexual identity in our society.
(Heck, even now, progress remains on the horizon.)
Date of viewing: March 13, 2017