Wednesday, August 17, 2016

#2,176. ...And God Created Woman (1956)

Directed By: Roger Vadim

Starring: Brigitte Bardot, Curd Jürgens, Jean-Louis Trintignant

Tag line: "...but the devil invented Brigitte Bardot!"

Trivia: Was condemned by the Catholic Church's Legion of Decency

Brigitte Bardot, in what is arguably the most stunning screen debut in cinematic history…

I was all ready to lead off my review of the 1956 French picture ...And God Created Woman with the above sentence. But then I did a little research, and to my surprise, this drama / romance was not Bardot’s first film. Not by a longshot. In fact, she had made well over a dozen movies across the previous four years! Easily one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen, it’s hard to believe it took so long for her to be noticed. But it’s true; ...And God Created Woman is the film that turned Bardot into a superstar, and its success had as much to do with director Roger Vadim's stylistic choices as it did the lead actress's magnetic charisma.

Juliette (Bardot) is an 18-year-old orphan living with her sponsors, the Morins (Jane Marken and Paul Faivre), on the island of St. Tropez. A free spirit, Juliette enjoys walking around in her bare feet and listening to music. Rumor has it she also likes the company of men, and is reputed to be a girl of loose morals. Yet, despite her reputation, she has several high-profile suitors trying to woo her, including business tycoon Eric Carradine (Curd Jurgens) and Antoine (Christian Marquand), who, with his two brothers Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Christian (Georges Poujouly) operates a small dockside business. For years, Juliette has been in love with Antoine, and is heartbroken when he promises to bring her to the city with him, only to leave her high and dry when the time comes.

Things take a critical turn when Mrs. Morin, tired of the gossip surrounding her young tenant, contacts the orphanage where Juliette grew up and tells them that she’s sending her back. Anxious to keep her in the area, Eric Carradine tries to convince Antoine to marry Juliette, but Antione refuses. To everyone’s surprise, Antione’s shy brother Michel (who, like many men in the area, has a crush on Juliette) instead proposes to the carefree young girl. Not wanting to return to the orphanage, Juliette accepts, and the two are quickly married. Over time, Juliette develops feelings for her new husband, but her love for Antoine remains as strong as ever. Can Michel tame his new wife, or will her unbridled passions get the better of her?

From the moment she first appears, laying naked on her stomach in the Morins’ back yard (a shot that Godard would duplicate for the opening of his 1963 film Contempt), Brigette Bardot grabs our undivided attention and never lets it go. Yes, she’s gorgeous, but it’s more than that; Bardot displays a screen presence in ...And God Created Woman that goes beyond physical beauty. Her portrayal of Juliette, a happy-go-lucky young woman in love with a man who doesn’t return her feelings, has a hint of sadness to it, as if she was looking for something in life, but had no idea what it was. When she marries the kindly Michel, we hope that she has the strength and foresight to abandon her promiscuous ways, but at the same time realize she most likely will not. Bardot conveys Juliette’s fun-loving attitude quite well, but also brings the character’s weaknesses to the surface, and over the course of the movie we both pity and despise her in equal doses.

Bardot’s performance, combined with her legendary beauty, played its part in making ...And God Created Woman an international hit, but ibut then so did director Roger Vadim. From the opening shot of Bardot’s nude bottom, Vadim frames the actress (who he was dating at the time) in a manner that takes full advantage of her sex appeal (late in the film, when Juliette is dancing the mambo in a dingy bar, Vadim even focuses for a short time on her legs). Throughout the movie, Vadim frames the actress in a way that ensures she’s the focal point of every scene, and we cannot take our eyes off of her.

...And God Created Woman was shot on-location in St. Tropez, an exquisite locale filled with bright sunshine, magnificent beaches, and a wonderful view of the sea. It’s truly a spectacular place, and throughout the movie we get to see most of its natural beauty. But only when Bardot isn’t on-screen; when she is, even St. Tropez must play second fiddle.

No comments: