BARDOT, DENEUVE, FONDA by Roger Vadim (Simon & Schuster: $17.95). To those who have followed his egregiously public life, it should come as no surprise that Roger Vadim has chosen to make his privates public. Titled, "Bardot, Deneuve and Fonda," his kiss-and-tell book about his former wives and lovers is an invasion not so much of their privacy as of his own. True, he tells us many ungallant tidbits about the women that they might not have wished to share with the public. In the act of doing so, he tells us far more about himself.
As he bemoans his fate: "How many times have journalists or casual acquaintances asked me: 'What did Brigitte or Catherine or Jane Fonda see in you?' "
As he answers them: "For some, the secret was my performance in bed; for others, I was only a vehicle for success; and for still others, I was a Svengali capable of bewitching innocent young girls . . . either I am a cynical, debauched manipulator . . . or, a man outstripped by the talent and beauty of the women he loves. . . . "
To judge by the record Vadim sets forth, the answer might well be all of the above, but the significance of the events he records seems to elude him. As he phrases his dilemma, ". . . it is not easy to be totally objective when talking about oneself, and self-congratulations are embarrassing."
One could call Vadim's book self-serving--it must have been intended as such; it is no loving memoir despite its many affectionate protestations--but the book does its author a disservice. Far more naked than the women he publicly disrobes is Vadim's own venality--not, perhaps, a word pressed widely into service among the worldly French. Although relentlessly presenting himself as a man of the world (Christian Marquand and Marlon Brando are "brothers" to him; just ask him), one cannot help wondering what world he really inhabits.
Can it be socially acceptable anywhere to write soft-porn descriptions of one's former intimates? The answer, perhaps, is "yes, if done brilliantly," but Vadim's are hardly that. What he shares with Henry Miller is sexual obsession, not descriptive power. Bardot emerges dripping from the sea, but what really drips is her ex-husband's prose: "Her face, streaming with drops of water, glistening in the sun like so many diamonds . . . a delicate neck, a thin waist that a man could encircle with two hands, a round, provocative and tender derriere that would have been the envy of Adonis and Aphrodite; perfectly curved hips, long, firm thighs . . . this sensual, glorious body."
It might credibly be argued that all art is autobiographical, but it cannot be credibly argued that Vadim's book is art. A slender vehicle, overfreighted by the ego of its author, it illuminates not the human soul but the human heel. Whatever lies and deceptions Vadim may have used to bed his "women"--and "the truth" is quite a seductive lie in the mouth of an older man--these lies are nothing compared to the elaborate rationales he builds for himself on his behaviors.
He writes of his philandering when married to young Jane Fonda: ". . . when I made love to another woman, I talked to Jane about it. . . . I desired that she be my accomplice. . . . I was convinced that our erotic relationship was intelligently balanced between tenderness and an essentially monogamous passion, and great flights of fantasy, which never became a form of addiction. . . . As for Jane, she did not allow herself extramarital escapades. This should have opened my eyes."
He complains that after he and Fonda were finally divorced, she told him she felt demeaned by his indiscretions. The reader of this book may finish it feeling the same way. The French do have a word for Vadim, one that deprives him of the last word, as he had evidently hoped. That word is: gauche .