Synopsis: The astounding success of Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman revolutionized the foreign film market and turned Brigitte Bardot into an international star. Bardot stars as Juliette, an 18-year-old orphan whose unbridled appetite for pleasure causes trouble in the French Riviera; her staid husband Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant) endures beatings, insults, and mambo in his attempts to tame her.
eyelights: Brigitte Bardot. its seaside location.
eyesores: its facile ending.
“Ah! The Garden of Eden in Saint-Tropez!”
In 1949, Roger Vadim met Brigitte Bardot. Then 15 years old, the girl caught the budding screenwriter’s eye. They began a love affair that culminated with their wedding in 1952. By then, Vadim had already been busy trying to make a star of his ingénue, which led to a number of bit parts. In 1955, he decided to direct ‘Et Dieu… créa la femme’, his first film.
And Vadim… created Bardot.
The controversial picture was a minor hit in France, but became a sensation in the United States, thrusting the pair into the public eye. The picture was, for its time, pretty racy, showing Bardot in various stages of undress and having her play a woman who is very comfortable with her own sexuality. It drew the ire of the censorship crowd in both countries.
And, although the film was heavily censored in many places, it didn’t deter from its success, making celebrities of not only Vadim and Bardot, but also co-stars Jean-Louis Trintignan and Christian Marquand. It was at the forefront of a new wave of morality, of changing values, which saw women’s sexual identity change dramatically in subsequent years.
‘Et Dieu… créa la femme’ secured its place in history.
The film itself nothing exceptional. Though it introduced Bardot’s “sex kitten” image, and made of sleepy St. Tropez a tourist attraction, the plot is simple enough: Juliette is an untamable young woman who draws the attention of men, and the disapproval of women. But she doesn’t care: she does as she wants, irrespective of what the consequences are for her reputation.
But her guardians tire of her antics and decides to send her back to the orphanage she came from. To prevent being sent back, a wealthy older suitor suggests that someone marry her. Smitten with her, the socially-awkward Michel proposes – knowing that she doesn’t love him, but hoping she’ll change. She does, but she also falls for his older brother, Antoine.
There’s also a subplot about Michel’s family’s small shipyard, which the older man has been trying to purchase because of the oil in the region, but that Antoine refuses to sell. And there are also the tensions that Juliette provokes, with the family matriarch taking an immediate dislike to her and initially refusing to allow Michel to wed the young woman.
Michel’s decision is also mocked by Antoine, who quite literally laughs at him, and receives the disapproval of his priest. But Michel ignores them all, even though he becomes the butt end of jokes. Seeing the contempt that he’s subjected to, Juliette begins to love him, and boldly makes a statement by taking him straight to bed, ignoring the wedding party.
And only coming out afterwards, in her nightie – for food.
Then returning to Michel’s arms.
Right from the start, ‘Et Dieu…’ tries to push its audience’s buttons, showing Bardot sunbathing nude as Mr. Carradine, the wealthy older gentleman, comes by for a visit. Though the scene is quite tame by today’s standards, it’s jarring so early on. But it’s the first of many suggestive scenes, putting on display Bardot’s sexy physique and raw sensuality.
Her performance is also quite stirring. Though some may easily dismiss her as merely a sexpot, Bardot exudes confidence as much as a she does carnality and adds to it a touch of defiance that makes her irresistible. And at no point does she resort to pouting to carry her scenes; though she poses ably for the camera, she is entirely believable as Juliette.
The rest of the cast is equally good, especially its leads, with Trintignan bringing sensitivity to Michel and Curd Jürgens giving Mr. Carradine the maturity and wisdom the character needed. Only Christian Marquand weakens the mix, making Antoine moody but not entirely naturalistic; he’s physically perfect for the part, but he doesn’t fully convince.
The picture is a real treat to look at: On top of the sultry Bardot, the picture was shot on location in St. Tropez and its environs. Though it hadn’t yet developed into a tourist town, it’s quite lovely in its simple way. Mind you, almost any seaside location looks terrific, but the French character of the place contributes to its loveliness and instant appeal.
Where the film stumbles is in its third act, when Vadim sets up Juliette and Antoine by having her leave with a faulty boat, which Antoine has to rescue her from. This leads to her seduction, which she’d already been fighting for days. Naturally, this causes tensions in the family and leads to her three suitors converging on her as she dances wildly at the local café.
This felt contrived, and took away from the picture to some degree, though it was enjoyable seeing Bardot in serious décolleté on the beach and later flailing about to the beat in the café. Thankfully, the picture redeems itself in the final moments, with Juliette’s contrition, Michel’s forgiveness, and Carradine’s decision to befriend and send Antoine back to the city.
‘Et Dieu… créa la femme’ may have been criticized for the softness of its drama, but it nonetheless works. And, anyway, no one remember the picture for the plot, which does hold up: It will always be considered a game-changer, a first significant salvo in the sexual emancipation of women both on screen and in society as a whole. After Bardot, the world changed.
A sexual revolution was in the offing.
Date of viewing: November 13, 2016