932. Et Dieu... créa la femme / ...And God Created Woman (1956, Roger Vadim)

Screened Sunday July 15 2007 on Criterion DVD in Weehawken NJ TSPDT rank #835 IMDb

Watch video essay Roger Vadim's attempt to leverage the assets of Brigitte Bardot, his 22-year old wife (they had married once she turned 18) was a runaway success that made Bardot into an international sex symbol. Some critics dismiss Vadim as a hack who capitalized on his wife's looks to catapult his career, but given that it was his first film and her seventeenth, let's just say that the benefits were mutual. Vadim's framings of Bardot are cheeky in every sense, not simply exploitive of her figure but a joyous, consensual depiction of sexuality as an act of personal expression.

Bardot, presented from the first scene as an Eve-like temptress, bounces between a middle-aged tycoon (Curt Jurgens), a strong but mysogynistic shipyard worker (Christian Marquand) whom she desires most, and his feeble younger brother (Jean-Louis Trintignant) whom she marries partly to spite the older sibling. Each has their allure but also present a vague threat in defining her, respectively, as another possession in a capitalist's playpen, a passionate one-night stand, or a dutiful wife; in every instance an objectified female.

Her scattershot response is to act badly towards her husband's family, engage in various self-endangering activities, and mambo herself into a frenzy in a climactic dance sequence that plays on her facial expressions like a gang rape. Not quite the unequivocal feminist statement that inspired a generation of young actresses to follow her to undress and shag onscreen uninhibitedly, but it's unwieldiness is part of what makes it compelling even today.

Coincidentally, the script shares several elements with another film that came out the same year, Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind. Both have at their center wild young women characters who, jilted by unrequited love, use tantrums, lasciviousness and wild mambo dancing to disrupt the equilibrium of the social network depicted in each film. (It so happens that both films locate industrial capitalism as a locus of power in which women are largely marginalized). While Vadim's film may not equal Sirk's stylistic tour de force, it benefits from focusing on Bardot with just the right mix of fetishized fixation and sympathetic irreverence.

Wanna go deeper?

In his liner notes for the Criterion DVD, cheeky Chuck Stevens ponders the degree of credit attributable to Roger Vadim for making the film - and Brigitte Bardot - an indelible monument to 50s European culture:

“Roger Vadim is ‘with it’,” wrote Jean-Luc Godard, then still a critic, in 1957. And in Vadim’s films, Godard claimed to have found—as he had in the collaborations between Frank Tashlin and Jayne Mansfield—a truly modern cinema. Vadim, who later claimed to have coined the term “discotheque,” would surely have agreed. “I felt like the young Bonaparte at the beginning of his Italian campaign,” Vadim claimed, some thirty years later, of his first day on the set, “I felt certain of victory.” Those words come from Vadim’s 1987 little-black-book-like memoir, Bardot Deneuve Fonda, a chronicle of the conquests, onscreen and off, of the director whose films, as the years went by, sank ever lower into misanthropic depths. Let his epitaph remain Pretty Maids All in a Row, in which a womanizer’s sexual victories are indistinguishable from his passion for serial killing. If God created woman, could Vadim have created Bardot? We know only this: both God and Vadim are dead, while Bardot—whose taunting nakedness seemed suddenly, and perhaps only coincidentally, to attain a kind of beatification under Vadim’s guiding paw—lives on.

The Film Reference.com entry on the film by John Baxter offers this emblematic quote by Jeanne Moreau: "Brigitte was the real modern revolutionary character for women. And Vadim, as a man and a lover and a director, felt that. What was true in the New Wave is that suddenly what was important was vitality, eroticism, energy, love and passion. One has to remember it was Vadim who started everything, with Bardot."

From a contemporary perspective, Alan Vannemann, in his survey of three Bardot films on DVD, has less kind words to assess Bardot's performance in ...And God Created Woman:

The film skids downhill because Vadim doesn’t want to make Brigitte "bad," but he does want her to be "untamable" — "the kind of woman who drives men mad!" Neither the script nor Brigitte seems to be up to the task of conveying this ponderous cliché. Brigitte has a brief affair with her brother-in-law. Ashamed, she flounces into a local boîte and tosses off six brandies. Then she heads downstairs to the dance floor, drawn by the tropic beat of the "Whiskey Café" boys, right off the boat from Martinique. What follows is supposed to be a sizzling climax but instead proves to be an awkward meltdown. Bardot took dancing lessons as a child, but she should have taken a few more, because her sense of rhythm puts her somewhere between Richard Nixon and G. Gordon Liddy.12 When she tosses her hair in her face in a vain attempt to look like a "wild animal," it’s hard not to look away.

Leave it to Gary Tooze on DVD Beaver to observe that the the image quality on the Criterion DVD dates to "before Criterion went soft-palette with many of their color DVDs. It looks quite vibrant, bordering on (but not crossing) saturation levels. It has sharpness, film grain , decent contrast with a shade of blue in the image. Looks fabulous. "

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