Column | My father whispers: ‘There sits Brigitte Bardot’

It was the south of France and we were on holiday there, my father, mother, brother and I. It must have been the mid-sixties, we collected movie star pictures that were with the chewing gum at the drugstore across the street. A blonde woman in a green dress sat on the terrace, her hair done up.

“Look,” my father said softly, “there is Brigitte Bardot.”

Ooh! There she was! Exactly like the pictures at the drugstore! She got up and walked away and my father said, “Let’s go see where she’s going,” and he took my brother and me by the hand and we quietly crept a block or so behind BB.

In class I proudly said: “We saw BB”, everyone then called her BB, even small children. I believed it to be true for years.

In the documentary series Bardot which can be seen on Netflix, her new lover Bardot proposes to go for a drink somewhere. “Tu rêves?” the actress asks. There can be no way that she just sits down in a café somewhere, since it is almost 1960.

It is not a very deep series, on the contrary, the tearful and capricious woman we see cannot stand being alone, believes that every man is her great love and that is because of a loveless childhood in which she felt ugly. The series shows her as a ‘devourer of men’: “You are in a cage with a wild beast and you don’t even realize it,” her producer warns the young Jacques Charrier who will marry Bardot and have a child with her.

Still, I watched it with my mother, who lived in Paris in the 1950s but, as an au pair with an American family, did not experience any of the Bardot craze.

What do you actually want to see when you watch such a series?

Something like the ‘real’ Bardot, I suspect, but of course you don’t get that, on the contrary, you feel more and more clearly that exactly that desire makes the ‘real’ life of famous people impossible. Moreover, no matter how well actress Julia de Nunez does, and no matter how much effort has been made to make her look like BB, she doesn’t have that indefinably enchanting quality that Bardot had, which made everyone come out to see her and all the women on wanted to look like her and bleached their hair and put on tight dresses and sat on terraces in the south of France to deceive small children. (No, that was my father. And it was a wonderful insight.)

My mother thinks this Bardot is rather spoiled and clearly not particularly enchanting and I tend to agree with her. Actually you would like to know what beauty is, what attraction is.

If you look at images of Bardot, you will inevitably come across more recent photos of the almost ninety-year-old film star. Brigitte Bardot may be a legend, but there is still someone alive who can look at the photos and films of that ravishing blonde woman and say: “That’s me.” That remains an everyday but still incomprehensible phenomenon, that someone really was who she once was. “That I was ever able to get away from photos/,” the poet Redbad Fokkema once wrote.

Actually, it wouldn’t even be true if that old woman said “that’s me.” Because ‘Brigitte Bardot’ never existed. The films and we created and created them, and still do. The woman who happens to have the same name has nothing to do with that.