And God Created Woman (Et Dieu ... créa la femme) [DVD]
Screenplay : Roger Vadim (story by Vadim and Raoul Lévy)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1956
Stars : Brigitte Bardot (Juliete Hardy), Curd Jürgens (Eric Carradine), Jean-Louis Trintignant (Michel Tardieu), Christian Marquand (Antoine Tardieu), Marie Glory (Mme. Tardieu), Georges Poujouly (Christian Tardieu), Jane Marken (Madame Morin), Jean Tissier (M. Vigier-Lefranc)
Movie stars are rarely made overnight. Arnold Schwarzenegger lumbered through roles both small and large in some truly awful films in the 1970s ("Hercules in New York," anyone?) before becoming the biggest box office draw of the 1980s. Marilyn Monroe struggled through supporting roles in more than a dozen movies before finally stepping into the limelight in Howard Hawks' "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" (1953). Even James Dean, whose tragically brief career is perhaps the closest thing imaginable to instant stardom, played bit roles for four years before becoming a matinee idol in "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without a Cause" in 1955.
So it was with Brigitte Bardot. Never a particularly great actress, Bardot had the kind of screen presence that puts her in a pantheon shared by only a handful of other film personalities (Dean and Monroe being two others). Like them, she had been around for many years before she became a certifiable "star" when her then-husband, Roger Vadim, cast her in "...And God Created Woman" ("Et Dieu ... créa la femme"). The year was 1956, and Bardot was just 21.
By all accounts, she had already starred in some 17 movies over four years, mostly enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable variations on screwball comedies. Bardot made an impact on screen, but she had never been cast in a role that took advantage of all she had to offer. Juliete Hardy, the fiery free spirit in "...And God Created Woman," was the role she was born to play, and it is the role for which she will most likely be remembered.
When the film opens, Juliete is an 18-year-old orphan living with an adopted family in the small fishing village of St. Tropez. Her controversial behavior (such as sunbathing nude, flirting with older men, and disregarding her job at a bookstore) is too much for her conservative adoptive family to take, and they threaten to send her back to the orphanage until she is 21.
To keep her in St. Tropez, a young man named Michel Tardieu (Jean-Louis Trintignant) marries her. Michel comes from a family of shipbuilders, and he is decent, if not a bit naive. His cad of an older brother, Antoine (Christian Marquand), has dated Juliete in the past, and it is painfully clear that she is desperately in love with him even though he only wants her for a one-night stand. At the same time, she flirts with the affections of an older businessman named Eric Carradine (Curd Jurgens), who wants to buy the Tardieu family land so he can build a casino.
The drama in the narrative comes from Juliete's attempt to control her untamed thirst for pleasure in order to remain faithful to Michel. But, as it turns out, Juliete is not and cannot be a one-man woman. As Carradine puts it at one point, "That girl was made to destroy men," and he wisely limits his involvement with her. As an older man, he can view Juliete with more detached interest than hotblooded lust, which is exactly what gets Michel and Antoine in over their heads.
Although not a great success when it was released in France in 1956, "...And God Created Woman" was an instant success when it was released two years later in the United States, where it afforded viewers the opportunity to see some French naughtiness played out in bold Eastman Color and full CinemaScope. The opening scene sets the tone, with a tasteful-yet-provocative profile shot of Juliete sunbathing naked on a terrace. Vadim had been married to Bardot for four years and they had been lovers since she was 15--he knew her and he knew how to utilize her in the film. His camera fetishizes every inch of her body, from her feet (the first line in the film is Carradine remarking, "You have the feet of a queen") to those unforgettable pouting lips (a few moments later, he remarks, "With that mouth you can have anything you want").
"...And God Created Woman" is breezy and enjoyable--often funny and sometimes even a little sad. If the film feels a bit unbalanced, it is because it has something of an internal conflict that can be separated on a narrative and a visual level. As a narrative, it can be read as a liberating feminist statement about the uncontrollability of a sexually free woman. However, from a visual point of view, it is another male-oriented fantasy film in which Bardot is positioned as a sexual object to be visually ogled.
The memorable scenes in "...And God Created Woman" are the ones in which Bardot is at her most sensuous: Her standing over Antoine on the beach, soaking wet with her dress unbuttoned from neck to naval, or the infamous mambo scene at the end of the film in which her untamed spirit is manifested in wild dance. The mambo scene is a particularly rich example of the film's split personality: narratively, it shows her ignoring all the men standing around her who wish to, in one way or another, own her, while visually the sheer sight of Bardot tearing up the floor is still a potent sexual image 45 years later. A viewer today can only imagine what it was like for inexperienced American audiences when it was first screened in 1958.
"...And God Created Woman" was Roger Vadim's directorial debut (he had co-scripted two earlier Bardot films, "That Naughty Girl" and "Please! Mr. Balzac"). He shows himself to be a gifted filmmaker, with a good eye for composition and an ear for quick, witty dialogue, although some will argue that he never made the fullest use of his abilities. One of the opening lines of his recent obituary in "Daily Variety" said that his "relationships with the some of the world's most beautiful women ultimately left a more lasting impression than his films."
Vadim was a great admirer of female beauty. He once said, "You wouldn't ask Rodin to make an ugly sculpture, or me to make a film with an ugly woman. That's my style, that's my nature." At various points in his life, he was married to Bardot and Jane Fonda and romantically involved with Catherine Deneuve, all of whom were featured prominently in his films. His career since the 1960s was mostly a downward slide (his in-name-only remake of "...And God Created Woman" in 1987 with Rebecca DeMornay was one of his last and worst films), but it does not take away from the importance of his early works.
Although not a particularly great film, "...And God Created Woman" never lacks in sheer entertainment value, and it will always be a cinematic landmark. It is a landmark not only because it caused such a scandal, but because the large box-office success of that scandal showed that audiences were willing and eager to see films that dealt openly with human sexuality, thus paving the way for the dismantling of film censorship boards, which allowed the international film industry to revolutionize cinematic subject matter. The French New Wave, arguably one of the richest periods in the history of cinema artistically, socially, and intellectually, was only a few years away...
16x9 Enhanced: Yes
Audio: Digital 1.0 Monaural
Extras: U.S. theatrical trailer; restoration demonstration; improved English subtitle translation
Distributor: The Criterion Collection/Home Vision
Video: The new anamorphic widescreen transfer in the film's original CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is positively gorgeous (it was done under the personal supervision of the late director). The film was shot in Eastman Color, which is a popular color film stock first made available in the early 1950s. Less expensive than Technicolor, it is still a vibrant stock that picks up bold, accurate colors. The new transfer, which was taken from a high-definition Spirit Datacine from the 35-mm interpositive, reproduces those colors with clarity, deep saturation, and no bleeding. The frame is filled with bright red dresses, expansive blue skies, and lush green foliage, all of which jumps off the screen. The transfer materials were generally clean of dirt and damage, and Criterion digitally cleaned up any remaining artifacts so that the print is almost flawless (there are a few vertical lines and a speck here and there, but otherwise it is remarkable for a 44-year-old film).
Audio: The Digital 1.0 monaural soundtrack, transferred from the 35-mm magnetic audio soundtrack, is more than sufficient. The infamous mambo scene at the end has a rich, deep texture, especially for one-channel mono. Dialogue is always clear, although looping is evident in a number of scenes (not the fault of the transfer, of course). "...And God Created Woman" is not a film with a particularly complex soundtrack to begin with, as the fight scenes are almost comically inept in the aural department (sound effects come late and, sometimes, not at all). Overall, the disc has a good, clean sound with no noticeable hiss.
Extras: This is a fairly frills-free Criterion release. The only real supplements are the original 1958 U.S. theatrical trailer, whose clumsy English overdubbing shows why it is so much better to watch the film in French, and a brief restoration demonstration that shows before-and-after scenes where dirt and scratches were removed (this is becoming a regular feature on Criterion discs).
©2000 James Kendrick