"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

December 23, 2011

"And God Created Woman" (1956) with Brigitte Bardot (Film review)

The mid and late 1950s saw a spate of films worldwide about wild, rebellious youth. There are the James Dean films in the U.S., the “sun tribe” films as Crazed Fruit with Ishihara Yujiro in Japan, and Et Dieu Crea la Femme (And God Created Woman, 1956) with a very wild Brigitte Bardot in France. The French and Japanese films are set on beaches, the hangout of young people. These youngsters are both rebellious and hedonistic, they hunt after their private pleasures in an amoral and asocial way, even cruelly so. In a certain way, Et Dieu Crea la Femme can be called a precursor of the French Nouvelle Vague.

As the fame of the director, Roger Vadim, seems to rest more on his relationships with young and beautiful actresses than his films – he was married to Bardot at the time this film was made – one could easily approach Et Dieu Crea la Femme with some trepidation. That is indeed justified as far as the story is concerned, an all too simple tale about a wild woman who drives three men crazy. On top of that, the sexual politics of the film are ultra-conservative, despite the seeming modernity. But the film also soothes the eye with colorful views of St. Tropez in CinemaScope format, and it is breezy and energetic.

But above all, we have the well-known “iconic” shot of Bardot sunbathing. Voyeuristic though it may be, this image of Bardot has become part of our cultural memory. It is also alluded to heavily - in a postmodern way - in Godard's Contempt (see my review of this film). Bardot on the beach in St. Tropez blew away the dark shadows of war and austerity in Europe and allowed people a glimpse of the oncoming sixties. That being said, there really is nothing in the film that will steam over your glasses today. Bardot goes barefoot to emphasize her wildness, but on the whole the film it is more modest than the average contemporary advertising billboard. In fact, the scene that shocks us most today for its political incorrectness is that Bardot uses her invalid stepfather in his wheelchair as a shield to ward off her angry stepmother.

Et Dieu Crea la Femme is available in the Criterion Collection.

(Revised August 2014)