And God Created Woman (1956): Brigitte Bardot as International Sex Icon

French (Et Dieu crea la Femme)

and_god_created_woman_posterMade in 1956, Roger Vadim’s sensational feature directorial debut is the film that catapulted French actress Brigitte Bardot into international stardom as a sex icon.

Vadim’s scandalous film is set in the French Riviera, specifically St. Tropez, barley a year after Hitchcock shot in the same area (Cannes) “To Catch a Thief,” and two years before Preminger returned to the chic site for “Bonjour Tristess.”

The nominal plot is slender and secondary to the cynical, amoral tone of the tale and its visual pleasures, beginning with the photogenic Bardot.

Signaling a new, more daring era of cinema, “And God Created Woman” presented the gorgeous body of Bardot, then married to Vadim, in an unabashed colorful way (in more senses than one, as the film was shot in Cinemascope).

By standards of today, the movie is tame.  But back in the 1950s, Bardot’s semi-nude posturing, seductive behavior, and pouty lips generated a lot of discussion and controversy.

and_god_created_woman_5_bardotThe first part of the film is far more interesting than the second, partly because the notions of “daring’ sex and amoral youths get repetitive.

Detailed Plot

Bardot plays Juliette, an 18-year old orphan, who makes no effort to restrain her sensuality–lying nude in her yard, kicking her shoes off and walking around barefoot, disregarding any societal norm or restraints.  Juliette’s seductive look and teasing conduct seems to attract the attention each and every man around her.

and_god_created_woman_4_bardotHer first suitor is the much older and wealthy Eric Carradine (Curt Jurgens), who wants to build a new casino in town, but his plans are blocked by a shipyard on the stretch of land which he needs for the development.

The shipyard is owned by the Tardieu family. Antoine, the eldest Tardieu son (Christian Marquant), returns home for the weekend to discuss the situation and Juliette is waiting for him. His intentions are short-term, and he spurns her by leaving town without her.

Tired of her antics, Juliette’s guardians threaten to send her back to the orphanage.  To keep her in town, Carradine pleads with Antoine to marry her, an ideal he laughs off.  Antoine’s naive younger brother, Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant), however, who’s secretly in love with Juliette, proposes to her.  Despite being in love with his older brother, Juliette accepts.

and_god_created_woman_2_bardotWhen Antoine returns home, the trouble starts for the newlyweds. Juliette takes off in a boat belonging to the family, gets in trouble, and has to be saved by Antoine.  When their boat goes up in flames, the pair is washed up on a wild beach, and make love.

Juliette begins acting bizarre, to say the least, claiming to have a fever.  She confesses to Michel’s little brother Christian (Georges Poujouly) about her fling with Antoine on the beach. Meanwhile, Maman (Marie Glory) hears about and tells Michel when he comes home.

Michel looks for Juliette, but she has gone off to the Bar des Amis to drink and dance. Antoine locks Michel inside, telling him that he should forget that “bitch whore.”‘  Juliette’s friend Lucienne (Isabelle Corey) calls Carradine to tell him how bizarre Juliette is acting, and he comes over to collect her, but Juliette refuses to go.

Eventually, Michel catches up with Juliette at the Bar, but she refuses to talk to him. Michel orders her to stop, and when she refuses, he takes out his gun. Just as he’s about to shoot her,  Carradine steps in and takes a bullet in his hand. Antoine offers to drive Carradine to a doctor, and they leave the Bar.

and_god_created_woman_1_bardotMichel angrily slaps Juliette, but instead of getting upset, she smiles at him.  On their way to the doctor, Carradine tells Antoine that he’s going to transfer him out of St Tropez, claiming that “That girl was made to destroy men.”‘

In the final scene, Michel and Juliette walk home together to what feels to be an uncertain future.

The scholar Ginette Vincendau has described Bardot’s persona as “the ultimate sex-kitten, wedding natural and unruly sexuality with childish attributes—slim but full-breasted, blond with a girlish fringe, the pout and the giggle.”

The movie became an instant success all over the world, especially in the U.S   Its audacity and personal elements are credited with opening the doors for the young directors of the French New Wave, such as Truffaut, Godard (who cast Bardot in his masterpiece “Contempt,” where she gives a creditable performance), Chabrol, and Louis Malle (who paired Bardot against Jeanne Moreau in “Viva Maria!”).

In the U.K. (and other countries), the movie was cautiously released as “And Woman Was Created.”

Ultimately, “And God Created Woman” is a significant work in Vadim’s subsequent output.  The public did not go to see the movie for its (nonexistent) plot, but to engage voyeuristically in gazing at an aggregate of snapshots of Bardot posturing as a sex kitten in various stages of dress, or rather undress, indoors and outdoors, riding bikes (so that we can see her Butt) and swimming or getting splashed in water (so that we can observe her shapely breasts).

When the film was released in the U.S., Bosley Crowther of the N.Y. Times, found Brigitte Bardot attractive but the film lacking and was not able to recommend it. He wrote, “Bardot moves herself in a fashion that fully accentuates her charms. She is undeniably a creation of superlative craftsmanship. But that’s the extent of the transcendence, for there is nothing sublime about the script of this completely single-minded little picture…We can’t recommend this little item as a sample of the best in Gallic films. It is clumsily put together and rather bizarrely played. There is nothing more than sultry fervor in the performance of Mlle. Bardot.”

Though not especially innovative in visual form or mise-en- scene, Vadim’s film was revolutionary in its view of eroticism. Juliette was more than a just sex symbol—as a screen character, she broke new grounds, displaying the kind of sexuality that had no regard for social taboos or traditional morality. The movie further anticipated the sexual liberation of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Scenes like the wedding lunch shocked viewers at the time. Juliet and Michel consummate their marriage in the upper level-bedroom while downstairs the family waits for them to begin the wedding banquet. The Bardot phenomenon out an end to the moral and erotic tone of the 1950s by displaying sex in ordinary places–in the streets, on the beach, parks–and through a more realistic photography, prompting one French critic to observe: ”Eroticism leaves the dream to join reality.”

In 1987, Vadim remade his own picture in an English version, starring Rebecca De Mornay, who proved she could act and was a better actress than Bardot, but not nearly as sexy and seductive.

Vadim discusses the making of this picture quite frankly in his juicy 1986 memoir, “Bardot, Deneuve, Fonda: My Life with the Three Most Beautiful Women in the World.”

Cast

Brigitte Bardot as Juliette Hardy

Curd Jürgens as Éric Carradine

Jean-Louis Trintignant as Michel Tardieu

Marie Glory as Mme. Tardieu

Georges Poujouly as Christian Tardieu

Christian Marquand as Antoine Tardieu

Jane Marken as Madame Morin

Jean Tissier as M. Vigier-Lefranc

Isabelle Corey as Lucienn

Jacqueline Ventura as Mme Vigier-Lefranc

Jacques Ciron as The Secretary of Éric

Paul Faivre as M. Morin

Jany Mourey as The Orphanage Representative

Philippe Grenier as Perri

Jean Lefebvre as The Man who wanted to danc

Leopoldo Francés as The Dance

Jean Toscano as René

 

 

 

 

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