November 11, 1985 12:00 PM

Liberty has always ignited passion in the French. After the storming of the Bastille in 1789, they chose as the symbol for their young republic “Marianne,” an amazon-like peasant brandishing a pike, her blouse ripped open to reveal a bosom swelling with revolutionary fervor.

Nearly 200 years later passions are bursting forth again over the mythic heroine. Since 1970 the Marianne statues that adorn many of the 36,000 town halls in France have been modeled on the nation’s most famous sex kitten, Brigitte Bardot. Now, La Bardot is to be deposed, and her pouting lips and generous attributes are to be replaced by the cool beauty of actress Catherine Deneuve, 42.

It was French radio and TV personality Pierre Bonte, 53, who took it upon himself to update Marianne’s image. In April of this year he asked a number of Paris personalities to cast their votes for a new Marianne, and then extended the vote to the general populace. The people’s choice, over the likes of Isabelle Adjani and Princess Caroline of Monaco, was Deneuve.

Bardot, who celebrated her 51st birthday last month at her Saint-Tropez home, was less than thrilled at the news. “I think my bust is very good, a great success,” she huffed. “The next one will be a rubbish.”

Not so. Twenty-four of France’s best sculptors were invited to submit their interpretations of Deneuve as Marianne. The entries, ranging from the conventionally romantic to a cubist fantasy, were displayed at the Bastille station of the Paris subway. On Oct. 25, a jury chose the winner, a classic bust by sculptor Mireille Polska, 38.

Deneuve was surprised and delighted. “I never thought that one day I would embody the Republic,” she laughed. “I imagine that what people see in me is the image of a classical woman…straightforward and sophisticated.”

Though copies of the less busty Deneuve/Marianne statues will be made available for $300, there is little chance that the Bardot number will be set out with the garbage. Certainly not in Bardot’s hometown. After all, Saint-Tropez got its Bardot/Marianne bust only last year, 14 years late. Said a gallant spokesman for the town hall: “We will certainly not be changing it for the Deneuve version.”

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