“I believe in more gusto…in being more relaxed, in enjoying our skin…in the sun.”
Roger Vadim’s film “Et Dieu créa la femme” (1956) perfectly encapsulates what he says above; a story about a passionate young French woman living a “relaxed” but hedonistic existence on the coast of southern France.
Juliette Hardy (Brigitte Bardot) is an eighteen-year-old girl living in Saint-Tropez but strays far from the quiet, polite girl image those around her want her to portray. To their dismay, she’s charged with a sexual energy, which the audience finds evident in her first appearance onscreen. In the beauty of Technicolor, the camera catches Hardy as she basks under the light of the sun, naked, with her blonde tresses cascading down her body. She is shielded from the looks and stares of people that pass her -as she sunbathes outside- by a bedsheet that hides her entirely. Although, Vadim places the camera on the other side of the bedsheet so the audience can share in the sensual fantasy of Juliette he creates.
The film focuses on how Juliette’s intense sexuality causes those around her to believe she needs to be tamed, like a wild animal incapable of being obedient. Her guardian, angered by her laziness and persistence in behaving provocatively decides that Juliette must be sent back to the orphanage she came from. This marks the first attempt of Juliette’s domestication.
As Juliette charms local businessman Mr Carradine, he doesn’t want her to be sent back to the orphanage. Notwithstanding, he is told by one of his assistants that two options face Juliette: marriage or adoption. Opting for neither himself, he lets Juliette’s situation slip into conversation with the Tardieu family, the eldest son of which Juliette loves, Antoine. Yet, it isn’t Antoine that marries her. Due to Juliette’s status in the town as a promiscuous young woman, he feels that by marrying her it would be like selecting used goods. Nonetheless, middle brother and rather hopeless in love, Michel Tardieu (who listens in on the conversation) decides to propose to Juliette and she accepts.
Newlywed bliss for Michel and Juliette is brief as Juliette tries her best to suppress her desires of freedom because momentarily Michel’s happiness means more to her. Still, one day Juliette finds herself stranded off the coast on a faulty boat and Antoine goes to rescue her. After a series of lustful stares, she seduces him then plummets into a euphoric state.
The end of the film sees Michel slapping Juliette repeatedly after hearing of her infidelity, then discovering her drunk and remorseless. The last thing the audience witnesses is Juliette being dragged home by Michel, marking her final attempt at being tamed.
Vadim’s magnum opus is an exciting portrayal of female sexuality made alluring by Technicolor. Withal, I believe the film’s success is really down to the vivacity of its star, Brigitte Bardot who is depicted to the audience as the very essence of femininity and womanliness.