in Criterion Month

And God Created Woman (1956)

John here for Mildly Pleased’s Third Annual “Criterion Month”. This year I went with the theme “First Time Filmmakers”. Today’s entry is the 1956 steamy French drama And God Created Woman, the film that launched the career of Roger Vadim (Barbarella, Pretty Maids All in a Row) and sexual icon Brigitte Bardot.

I first heard about this film in the 2003 book Profoundly Disturbing: Shocking Movies that Changed History! from famous drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs. The deal with And God Created Woman is though the film was a big hit in its native France it was cut to shit when it was released in the US. That’s because Ma and Pa Kettle couldn’t handle all the sex. Which isn’t surprising. Americans can’t handle anything taboo. In 1956 they were still four years away from being ready to see a toilet flush. Thanks Psycho.

Controversy in mind, I was picturing The Fifty Shades of Grey of its time. When in fact this film is more like the Days of Our Lives of its time. The film has all the melodrama but none of the sex. Make no doubt, Brigitte Bardot is sexy but there’s nothing overtly exploitative in this film. The worst I can think of is a naked Brigitte Bardot with her body obscured by a clothesline—like Wilson on Home Improvement. Otherwise, the film has no nudity. What was freaking America out?

Brigitte Bardot plays Juliette, an 18-year old former orphan. Everyone in town is warm for her form and she knows it. Which includes her guardians who want to send her back to the orphanage unless she settles down with a man. Call me crazy but I don’t think it works like that. “Get married or were sending you to the orphanage!” She’s an adult. Are there different rules in France? But like a Blastoise using Hydro Tackle against Onix, the threat is super effective.

Juliette wants to marry Antoine (Christian Marquand) but because he’s always on the road doing whatever 1950s bachelors do, she settles down with Antoine’s younger brother, Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant). They marry but uh oh! Antoine returns and this time it’s for good! Thus begins the steamiest of steamy love affairs. But not really.

Juliette cheats and goes out partying and drinking every night. She’s flirtatious around other men and takes no guff from anyone. This persona is only made stronger by the casting of Brigitte Bardot. Whether or not Bardot is an amazing actress, no one can deny her screen presence. With a sultry disposition, she’s the kind of actress you could imagine being a star in any decade.

Still, I’m not sure why this film was deemed so racy. I have one theory that I haven’t cross-checked with any articles, but here we go. Americans were offended by And God Created Woman because Americans are afraid of women expressing themselves sexually. Sure, if it’s James Bond going to pound town it’s no big deal, but a woman? I don’t know if And God Created Woman set out to be a feminist statement but it can be read that way. On that level, I have a lot of respect for Roger Vadim breaking conventions.

What disappoints me is the film’s bland tone. There are a few inventive shots—think I saw a split diopter shot or two in there—but the film is mostly standard wides in ordinary locations. Most of the dudes blend together into one character and the pace is slow. With the exception of Bardot, I didn’t feel invested most of the time. There’s a great dance sequence near the end of the film and someone gets shot but it’s too little too late.

Looking at the film from a modern perspective, And God Created Woman doesn’t feel like a film that would have rattled cages. Yet it did and I respect the film for that. Maybe it’s empowering too. Boring but empowering nonetheless. Go sex!