Bridey Heing
September 28, 2015 8:31 am

Today, famed French actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot turns 81! While Bardot, with her tousled beehive and perfect pout is celebrated as a style icon, she’s also amassed an amazing body of work in films. If you’ve never seen a Bardot movie, today is the day—and here’s where to start:

And God Created Woman (1956)

This 1956 film made Bardot a household (and controversial) name. In it, Bardot plays 18-year-old Juliette, a young orphan with a wild streak living with her guardians in St. Tropez. Attempts to keep Juliette “under control” fail time and again, and the role broke new ground —and shocked— audiences with its depiction of a young, sexual woman. Hey, it was the ’50s.

Contempt (1963)

Bringing together New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and Bardot, 1963’s Contempt is considered a masterpiece of cinema. Here Bardot plays Camille, the wife of a filmmaker shooting an adaptation of The Odyssey in Italy. They become distant as Camille is left along with a millionaire playboy named Prokosch. The film, which features director Fritz Lang as himself, is widely considered a masterpiece of French cinema, thanks in no small part to Bardot.

The Truth (1960)

This Oscar-nominated 1960 court drama stars Bardot as Dominique, a young woman on trial for the murder of her boyfriend. A tragedy that mirrors many tales of bohemian life gone horribly wrong, Dominique’s story of love, loss, and ruin is shared through the trial. The question of whether she truly loved the man she murdered is what the trial hinges on, and her life hangs in the balance.

Love Is My Profession (1958)

Another drama that begins in a courtroom, this 1958 films stars Bardot as Yvette, a woman who wins the heart of her lawyer after he successfully defends her in a robbery case. But the fantasy of being with Yvette is nothing like the reality.

Don Juan, Or If Don Juan Were A Woman (1973)

This gender-bending retelling of the Don Juan story reunited Bardot with ex-husband Roger Vadim, who made her a star in And God Created Woman. Here, Bardot plays the lethally seductive Jeanne, as she confesses to a priest her many conquests. Once again, Bardot embraces and challenges notions of female sexuality in a way that American audiences had rarely seen on film. The same year this movie came out, Bardot retired and devoted her efforts to animal rights, but her legacy in film continues to influence actresses and audiences today.

(Images via HVE, Union Film Productions, Kingsley International, Embassy Pictures)

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