… And God Created Woman (Roger Vadim, 1956)

30Jul11

Brigitte Bardot (Juliette Hardy), Jean-Louis Trintignant (Michel Tardieu). Screenplay by Raoul Lévy and Roger Vadim. Directed by Roger Vadim. Rating: PG. Running time: 95 minutes.

Simone De Beauvoir famously proclaimed Brigitte Bardot to be the most liberated woman in post-war France. That is, of course, a controversial view, but it’s wholly in line with Beauvoir’s own Sartrean, existentialist conception of freedom, where the aim is to construct meaning and value in one’s own life, imposing order on an otherwise empty world. She thought the possibilities on offer were endless, and none were necessarily better than any other. This was judged particularly important to remember when it came to the tendency people had to follow convention, which typically meant endorsing Christianity and morality. If you freed yourself from those archaic bonds and did exactly what you wanted, then you would the better for it.

No wonder, then, that Bardot got propped up as the archetypal living embodiment of the new philosophy, an unintentional role model sui generis. And reading about her life after watching … And God Created Woman, it looks like in this most contentious of films she barely had to do anything but be herself. She plays an openly sexed-up teen totally at ease with leaving all her male acquaintances infatuated, stoical in the face of condemnation from older generations.

It’s easy to think this is the antithesis of freedom: a woman playing into man’s hands by being interested in precisely what they want her to be and showing off just what they like: sex, and her body. Yet this would be to miss what is crucial: men may like doing the objectifying, but they certainly don’t like getting that treatment back. The prime reason Bardot is such a nuisance here is that even when married she refuses to settle down and be content with her husband, continuing with her promiscuous ways in a way men just don’t know how to handle. Beauvoir summed it up best when she wrote that ‘in the hunting game, she is both hunter and prey. Males are an object for her, as much as she is an object for them. This is precisely what hurts males’ pride.’

This radical idea, which was without a doubt unfathomably boisterous for ’56, drives the filmmaking, as does Bardot’s beauty and naturally lustful inclinations. It only works because everything depends on her and she’s completely at ease with being the temptress. If God created this woman, as one of her admirer’s puts it, he designed her to drive men to grief and despair. Her looks and the intrigue surrounding her may have grown with age. She was ten times more attractive in Contempt. But only at the ripe age of eighteen could she sum up so daringly what her life would be about. This film is the record of it, and for that reason alone it will remain remembered.

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