Video Essay for 932. Et dieu... crea la femme / ...And God Created Woman (1956, Roger Vadim)

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And God Created Woman has the reputation of being dated, artless, sensationalist camp. but there's no denying one thing - Brigitte Bardot's appearance still hits like lightning. And it can't all be attributed to her - part of it is due to Roger Vadim, who was a fashion photographer before making his directing debut. Scene after scene, he knows just how to position her within the frame, how to set her apart from the rest of the composition, through staging, color, gesture. It may amount to the tricks of fashion photography, but is potent all the same. I wouldn't say Bardot, with her unstudied array of uncouth gestures, is acting so much as acting out. But it's part of what makes her performance significant - taking the brooding postures one might associate with Marlon Brando and James Dean and infusing it into the overt sexuality of a Marilyn Monroe. Though I wouldn't dare suggest that her acting ability is on par with any of them, including Monroe. Her shrugs - even that is part of it - Monroe puts a lot more grace into her shrugs than Bardot does here. On the other hand, if we want to label this acting as bad, then perhaps this bad acting has a purpose, as an aesthetic effrontery to the establishment filmmaking, the so-called tradition of quality, that Vadim and the New Wave directors following him sought to challenge.And lest anyone think this film amounts to cheap soft-porn exploitation, take a shot like this -- Vadim isn't just peddling flesh, he's peddling an attitude. But what is this attitude? The film struggles to define it, just as Bardot struggles to convey the complex emotions roiling inside her character. Her conflict throughout the film is presented in terms of which man she will end up with, and in what role: as a young trophy mate to a middle-aged tycoon, as the passionate fling to the man she wants but who does not want her, or the submissive wife in a respectable family. Her character can only seem to envision happiness in terms of the men in her life. With none of them offering satisfaction, she turns all her energy against herself.

In the film's notorious climax, Bardot the dream woman, the girl who's ass is a song, performs a dance like a horrific scream. The curtain of blonde hair is pulled back, and all the sex kitten playfulness, the come-hither attitudes, are betrayed by self-destructive despair. Her dance is a Medea-like act of vengeance against the men in the film, against the spectator, an act of cancelling out the contract made between herself and the world, that her self-worth be defined by her sex appeal.

Vadim ups the ante with an ugly racist subtext. the sight of France's most desirable woman cavorting with several black men, cut in such a way to suggest a spectatorial gang rape. And the scandalized faces of Jurgens and Trintignant are enough to tell that the film is no longer about the triumph of liberated woman, but about the failure of French men, who in their liberalness, have lost not only their woman but their national pride and purity.

The film, for all the anti-bourgeouis subversiveness that preceded this scene, rests on a brutally conservative conclusion - that man must reclaim his dominance. But one must not underestimate Vadim's instincts as a commercial pleaser to pick up where his lack of visionary persistence fails him-- after unleashing a pandora's box of possibliites for the a new breed of woman, but this may amount to a feeble attempt to cover his ass. But by this point, the damage has been done.