I was staying up late one night, as so often happens, and watched a movie that I first saw years ago (and no, not when it first came out). It was And God Created Woman, filmed in 1956, starring the French sex symbol, Brigitte Bardot.
First off, if you surf the web at all, you may have seen photos of an elderly Bardot (she’s 82 by the way) with the headline “Stars who have aged badly.” These so-called headlines bring you to a site that just wants to sell you something, but the principle of it is what really irks me. The woman is 82 and these types of sites implicitly criticize her, and other former sex symbols, for not looking exactly the same at 82 as they looked at 20! How dare they not get a facelift and a tummy tuck so they can age “gracefully.” Yet if they do get a facelift or tummy tuck, then the criticism is, “Oh, how dare they try plastic surgery to stay young, they should just get old like everybody else.”
It’s hell to be a former sex goddess, I can tell you. (Well, not from personal experience, but hey, it’s just common sense!)
Anyway, that brings me to And God Created Woman. It wasn’t my cup of tea when I first watched it and this next time around sort of cemented my disdain.
You’ve got to understand that European films have always been distinctively different from American films. American films had a film code that limited what could and could not be shown on-screen, whereas European movies were much more permissive. So a European movie made in 1956 would be exploring themes that were explored very differently in American films – if they were explored here at all. But even for all that, And God Created Woman was quite scandalous for the time period.
I haven’t researched it enough to know if others think like me but I do know in the official descriptions of the film and in media content about the film, no one mentions anything about what I’m about to say. There was just one critic, Dennis Schwartz, who sort of seemed to support my opinion:
“The public loved it and it became a big box-office smash, and paved the way for a spate of sexy films to follow. What was more disturbing than its dullish dialogue and flaunting of Bardot as a sex object, was that underneath its call for liberation was a reactionary and sexist view of sex.”
Bear with me as I explain the plot to make my point.
The film follows an orphan, Juliette, who was taken in by a family in a small fishing village. She’s gorgeous and on the surface of things, appears to have a very high sex drive with exhibitionist tendencies, and a desperate need for men.
However, in the character that I saw on the screen, I saw depression (she has severe mood swings), anxiety, a severe and deep-seated desire to be loved and accepted by men that could stem from depression, childhood trauma, or some other issue left undeveloped on-screen.
Every man around her uses her. The older brother, Antoine, despises her, yet sought her out to sleep with her, used her, then left her. Of course it was her fault he wanted to have sex with her. So he carries the torch of contempt while continuing to toy with her emotions. The mega-rich, and much older, businessman, Éric, acts in the same manner – he sees in her something he wants, much like his proposed casino, and is determined to manipulate her to his own needs and desires. While these men are chasing her, they are at the same time criticizing, mocking, and talking bad about her…how her looks are meant to destroy men, her high sex drive makes her a slut/whore, and they vilify her – while at the same time, wanting her. To me that sounds like rationalization, manipulation, and misogyny at its finest.
At one point, the older brother knows his younger brother, Michel, is in love with Juliette, yet during a boat trip with her, after Antoine and she get stranded…what does he do? Has sex with her. But in the end, he blames her for his transgression (because obviously he has no control over his own impulses) and accuses her of manipulating him when it was clearly the other way around (to me) and he took advantage of what is obviously a vulnerable woman. Not to mention betraying his brother’s trust. But no, that was all on her. Couldn’t blame himself for not keeping it in his pants. I mean, come on.
No one, with the exception of Michel, truly cared for her. Michel. He saw past her mood swings, her so-called sex drive (which to me always seemed “put on” in an effort to be accepted and loved by men rather than a true sex drive), her obvious manic episodes…he saw the real her and loved her. At the end, he is the only one who stood by her, albeit a bit roughly. However, his attitude and actions convince Juliette, finally, that he’s not leaving her side despite her frenzied behavior. And this in spite of the others trying to convince him she was a bad person. Michel was the only male character to rise above and do his gender justice. Quite frankly, I felt this was the movie’s only saving grace — the ending — when Juliette finally discovered the “one” who truly loved the real person she was inside. We should all be so lucky.
But even as the credits rolled, my thoughts remained snagged on the general theme, rather than the final scene.
While not her first movie, this particular film made Brigitte Bardot a global “sex symbol.” Or a “sex kitten.” And what did those words mean to men at the time – or even now?
Not a beautiful woman, self-confident, who had the respect and admiration of men, but rather someone whom they lusted after – whom they would possess if they could and whom they would equally despise if she allowed them to possess her. Much like the character in the movie.
I didn’t see an erotic drama in this movie, nor did I see it as a film reveling in the “sexual revolution” or celebrating sexual liberation. I saw a sad testament of a woman desperately seeking love and acceptance and only finding men who wanted to use her and throw her away.