Whether she’s lounging naked in the sun, riding a bicycle with a dress hiked up to decency-defying heights, dancing barefoot. …And God Created Woman’s Juliette (Brigitte Bardot) is a wild child, one of the originals. Juliette is the rogue element in a provincial seaside town. She has no parents, no interest in working, and doesn’t care about the opinions of the townspeople – though they offer their disdain at any given chance. The list of things that pique her interest is short: A red Simca convertible and men. In the “men” column, three types are of particular interest: There are men in general, typically less judgmental of her than the threatened housewives, and more impressed with her astonishing beauty. There’s the man with something to offer, like the rich Mr. Carradine (Curd Jurgens), an older playboy type trying to build a casino in the picturesque town. And then, there’s hunky Antoine Tardieu (Christian Marquand), the eldest son and primary breadwinner for a family of shipbuilders.
For the sake of context, …And God Created Woman is the story of Juliette and Antoine’s doomed romance. Returning from his job in the nearby city, Antoine rekindles his relationship with Juliette and the two have share a lot of close dancing. He promises to take her away, but it’s shortly revealed that his aim isn’t true. Shortly after this snub, Juliette finds herself in the sticky situation of having to return to the orphanage. The only way out is marriage. Her admirer Carradine isn’t game because he’s too old and wise to be blinded by her feral charm, but when Antoine’s smitten little brother Michel (Jean-Louis Trintingant) proposes, she’s saved, with an added bonus of revenge on Antoine to boot. In the early days of the marriage, Juliette actually tries hard to be respectable, and seems to make some progress towards happiness with Michel. He’s pretty cute, after all. But when Antoine returns to live in the town, his mere presence in her daily life threatens the peace she and Michel have worked to build. The volatile chemistry between the two is undeniable and yields explosive results.
The promise of scandal lures us, but ultimately, Juliette’s behaviour isn’t particularly outrageous. She seems to be a bit of a nudist and actually enjoys sex, but her primary sin seems to be an absolute laziness that frustrates the local women and delights the men. Her sloth is rooten in a bad case of ennui that she hopes one of her suitors will be able to cure. But they can’t save her; only dancing can. In the iconic climactic scene, Juliette dances the mambo, pantsless, in a frenzied attempt to get her head straight. This expression of her inner turmoil is conveniently also a the perfect opportunity to pump the film full of scandalous sexuality.
More than anything, …And God Created Woman is supposed to be a parable about what women do to men, their destructive force. In an idyllic seaside town, a petulant girl of unparalleled beauty creates havoc among the residents. There’s not a man in the film who doesn’t want to get it on with Juliette. They condescend to her with varying degrees of misogyny. Even the moony Michel, who comes closest to loving Juliette for who she is (as opposed to what she appears to be) at moments bemusedly humors her dissatisfaction-driven whims. She may be the epitome of male desire, but she is also a handful. Her moods, her needs – no suitor can step up and fully give Juliette what she wants.
But it’s not just all sex appeal. Bardot’s performance carries a surprising weight. Especially evident in moments of disappointment, as when Antoine leaves her waiting at the side of the road as he disappears back to the city on the bus, without a word her countenance registers and resignedly processes something deeper than the callous rejection. With her hair whipping around her face, her eyes trained on the bus receding in the distance, Juliette reckons with the crushing weight of her own powerlessness. A heavy trip, for sure, but these moments elevate the film above sexy provincial drama, reaching at something existentially revealing. Only when nobody steps in to save her does Juliette find peace in her violent mambo. It’s hard work being happy.
Roger Vadim’s 1956 film was a career-maker, defined modern vision of French women, and titillated millions of prudish English-speakers. Bardot is an icon, and this film is what made her. Juliette offers an outlet for her to be the Platonic ideal of BB. Wild, unapologetically sexy, heartbreakingly beautiful and unsatisfied. The men, the plot, the setting are all just props for Bardot (and her perfect buttocks) to shine. The suspense is waiting for her to finally Bardot push all that ephemera out of the frame and take the spotlight, thank god. It’s her we came to see after all.