Talk about bombshells!
Brigitte Bardot, the iconic sex symbol-turned-animal rights passionaria, has often lashed out from the seclusion of her Côte d’Azur hideaway against the cruel treatment of animals—her raison d’être since she stepped down from the silver screen four decades ago.
In contrast to her defense of all-things-furry, the 77-year-old Bardot, who has not left her residence in Saint-Tropez for years, rarely says anything positive about her fellow humans. Younger French people no longer tend to think of her as the groundbreaking sexual creature from the 1956-film And God Created Woman, nor do they consider her a particularly persuasive animal rights activist. They largely perceive her to be an off-key old crank whose animal rights arguments devolve into anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rants. French radio interviewers relish in redirecting late-vintage Bardot’s legendary temper, as when they sparked her fury over rumors that Hollywood was developing an unauthorized biopic about her.
So it was something of a surprise when, just two months before the first-round of French presidential elections, the former screen siren brought her star-power to bear on behalf of another human, the popular far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. Animal rights are, naturally, part of Bardot’s justification for her support. Le Pen, the screen legend wrote in a hand-written missive that was published in the local newspaper, “defends animals and has the courage to restore to our country, ‘La France’ to the place that it should fill in the world.”
Why did the aging Bardot feel the need to promote Le Pen?
French presidential aspirants require 500 signatures from local officials (mostly mayors) to make it onto the presidential ballot. While Le Pen has generally polled between 15 and 24 percent in first-round presidential surveys, she has claimed for weeks that she is having a hard time obtaining enough signatures in the run-up to the March 16 filing deadline. Some officials fear losing central government subsidies, while others are afraid of the wrath of voters if they publicly help Le Pen onto the ballot. The issue is especially sensitive since some polls early this year briefly placed Le Pen in second place, ahead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, suggesting that she has the electoral potential to prevent the unpopular incumbent from even making it into the run-off, which will likely be against frontrunner Françoise Hollande, a Socialist.
Thus, the targets of Bardot’s ire, and of her campaign of persuasion, in the February 20 letter are the largely conservative mayors of the French Riviera. “I ask them therefore to have a bit of courage for once in their life and to finally fulfill their duty,” Bardot wrote in her curling schoolgirl script. “I am scandalized that the mayors of France are so utterly sensitive and don’t have the honesty to voice their support for Marine Le Pen, who is one of the frontrunners for the Presidential elections.”
Bardot and Le Pen are women of different generations—Le Pen, 43, was born just five years before Bardot hung up her celluloid sex-symbol swimsuits—but rarely have two women been more made for each other. They are both stunningly provocative and tough-talking blondes who are passionate about their beliefs to the point of offending much of France. (And the French don’t exactly take offense easily).
They have both known tumult from early on, with Bardot first attempting suicide as a teenager. (It was her adolescent response to parents who tried to send her abroad to keep her from Roger Vadim, who later married her and directed her in “And God Created Woman.”) Marine Le Pen, meanwhile, survived the massive bombing of the Parisian apartment building where her family lived when she was a small child in 1976. (The bomber was never found and the motive for the apparent attack on her notorious father, Jean-Marie, who founded the Front National political party that she now leads, remains a mystery.)
And while Bardot’s potent stardom and complicated love life drew out some of the world’s earliest stalker-paparazzi, Le Pen’s mother Pierrette has garnered her own tabloid attention. That came during her particularly tumultuous and public divorce from Marine’s father in the 1980s when the Front National was tempting more voters than ever. Pierrette has insisted that when she left Jean-Marie, he told her that she would come back on her knees, he would lock her in the basement, and “piss on your head.”
Later, Pierrette posed on the cover of the French Playboy under the title “Madame Le Pen Nude.” (She dressed as a maid because Jean-Marie had suggested that instead of asking him for financial support, she should try house cleaning.) Marine didn’t speak to her mother for the next 15 years.
Bardot has had a tumultuous private life. France’s living legend is currently married to her fourth husband—the businessman Bertrand d’Ormale, who has advised Marine Le Pen’s father—and she has had a famously difficult and distant relationship with her only son. The younger Le Pen has divorced twice, and her current partner is her deputy, the vice president of the Front National, Louis Aliot.
Bardot and Le Pen’s life paths have led them to similar political conclusions. They both have a tendency to ooze nostalgia for a France’s glory days—whenever those were. They are both attention-grabbing political provocateurs with a penchant for mise en scène; Bardot has modeled with fuzzy baby seals to highlight their slaughter, while Le Pen has gone on television to wave a nearly naked photograph of a hunky French diplomat who, she argued, had become an embarrassment for France.
And politically, Bardot and Le Pen have meted out similar attacks against their own cartoonish interpretations of Muslim faith and traditions. In the days before Bardot’s letter of support, Le Pen asserted that all Parisian slaughterhouses use Halal meat (essentially the Muslim equivalent of kosher) regardless of whether or not consumers are supportive of the Muslim-style killing and blessing of animals. Members of President Sarkozy’s government have vociferously denied Le Pen’s allegations, as have numerous meat industry professionals in Paris.
Bardot has made clear in the past that she is not a member of the Front National even if she is politically on the French right. (She says that her husband is free to believe whatever he wants.) Nor does she support Nicolas Sarkozy, who she believes betrayed his promises to her on animal rights. “We live,” she wrote, “in a permanent lie of un-kept promises and decadence that will carry us toward disaster.”