Monday, January 22, 2007

Film Nerd: "And God Created Woman"

Saturday night Mr. and Mrs. Scribe cozied up to work through writer/director Roger Vadim’s “And God Created Woman,” (AGCW) frantically jumping back and forth between his acerbic dialogue and Brigitte Bardot’s all-commanding screen presence.


The impulse for this particular selection had its roots in the scribe’s mom having sent him a copy of Vadim’s book, “Bardot, Deneuve, Fonda: My Life With The World’s Three Most Beautiful Women.”

Oh screw you Vadim.

The book’s a delightful account of surging Parisian culture in the years after the Nazi’s were thrown out. He partied the left bank with Sartre and Beauvoir, got his first positive film review from an unknown Francois Truffaut, and recommended a script written on a matchbox by an equally anonymous Jean-Luc Godard. He introduced Brigitte to Bohemian circles at a party attended by “a young U.S. Senator named John F. Kennedy.”

You get the idea.

What prompted the actual going out to look for the film was Vadim’s art-imitating-life/life-imitating art account of how he lost Bardot to the “always secretive and slightly Machiavellian” male lead of AGCW, one Louis Trintingnant.

In the film, Bardot marries Trintingnant’s character Michel, but it’s not really working thanks to the temptations of older, essentially better men; she can’t resist the sexual lure of Michel’s older brother Antoine, who lives in the same house, together with yet another younger brother and their mother, in the old-fashioned way.

One has Bardot imploring the love out of Michel and then settling into the sand calmly to declare, “It’s difficult to be happy.”

Wrote Vadim, “Never before had Brigitte, the actress, been so profoundly desperate. She was really Juliette [the character] who wanted to love her husband and save her marriage but knew that she would never succeed. She was also Brigitte, still attached to her husband and terrified at the idea of leaving him for a man whom she had just met, and whom she could not resist. It was like a world of reflecting mirrors, with Pirandellian subtlety.”

After the scene was shot Vadim confronted Bardot and she admitted to loving Trintingnant, putting the period to their argument with an utterance of, “It’s difficult to be happy.”

“Even to this day,” Vadim concluded in his 1986 book, “I am not sure whether she had deliberately repeated a phrase from the dialogue of the film, or whether she was saying what she felt.”

The film is also a delight. It was the young Bardot’s (20!) seventeenth and the one that broke her big time.

Vadim’s directing is most evident in the unique, if self-conscious, set shots he configured, characterized by strange bifurcations, the use of mirrors, second and third depth levels into which Bardot sashays, retreating and smaller, ever the unobtainable young peasant girl.

The direction is evident in his hands-off approach to Brigitte, whom he was consciously helping to bloom.

the scribe suspects that, directing the climactic scene in the waterfront whore’s bar, Vadim just folded his arms and set the one-time ballerina to melding with the samba band and the saxy kind of updated bolero soundtrack sunk into the proceedings.

The subtle battle between a rigid social order still existing in the Old World, and the young-girl-with-a-crappy attitude that Bardot both popularized and perfected in this film, is probably beyond the understanding of anyone born after 1960.

Something of a natural foil for the Catholic bourgeois culture she was raised in, Bardot tapped into her most authentic self, pouting and huffing, absentmindedly opening and closing parasols while a bilious and asexual coterie of older women lash her with predictions of eternal damnation.

Vadim said the response to AGCW was testimony to the film’s revolutionary appeal, but, at heart, the tale is both reactionary and a truthful measure of the world as it was. For all her persistence and head-banging, Juliette loses again and again to “the system.”

She is expunged from the household which took her up following her parents’ death. Her marriage to Michel is engineered from beyond by a wealthy shipbuilder who needs Michel’s brother to sign over the family land so he can build a casino in St. Tropez; still a fishing village (and magical, natural film set) at the time.

That an object of his own desire should be married hardly disturbs the magnate. “When your hair is gray, you can wait,” he tells Juliette. “Only the young are impatient.”

Juliette loses again when she must marry somebody she doesn’t love to stay “free” when she is merely trading prison for a halfway-house.

The film suggests that for all her attractive and potent protestations, the order which conspires against Juliette knows a horny and unreasonable young girl when it sees one, and has effective old-school remedies for handling her.

It suggests that Juliette’s overheated sexuality is dangerous to others, yes, but mostly to Juliette largely because it is subversive of an order into which she must ultimately fit. In the end, the man she resists most, her husband, turns out to be the best match of all.

Chastened, she lives happily every after, European style.

In American film, you give the farm a big kiss-off and move to the city where you meet the real deal and live happily ever after in a new and imagined kind of way.

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