Color, 1956, 95m.
Directed by Roger Vadim
Starring Brigitte Bardot, Jean-Louis Trintignant
Criterion (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

A film so iconic most people don't even remember it has a plot, And God Created Woman (Et Dieu créa la femme) introduced the world to Brigitte Bardot, gave Roger Vadim his first break as a director, smashed down censorship barriers in the United States, and blurred the line between the arthouse and the grindhouse. So, is the film itself any good? Yes, but probably not in the way most viewers would now expect. Rescued from a hellish life in an orphanage by a stern moralistic couple, young Juliette Hardy (Brigitte Bardot) spends her days working in a bookshop in St. Tropez and her nights partying with the locals. She spurns the advances of millionaire shipyard owner Mr. Carradine (Curd/Curt Jürgens, the villain from The Spy Who Loved Me), hoping instead to leave town with the handsome Antoine Tardieu (Christian Marquand, who later directed Candy and had sex with ice cubes in The Other Side of Midnight). Unfortunately Antoine regards her as nothing more than a one night stand and takes off alone. Antoine's kinder, weaker brother, Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant), takes pity on the young beauty and, against the advice of his family and the townspeople, marries Juliette. Domestic life proves to be a problem when Mr. Carradine buys out the Tardieu shipyards, with Antoine returning home to assume duties as a chief of operations. Now saddled with three men longing to possess her, Juliette begins to crumble.

While the late Vadim earned a reputation as a womanizer and a materialist, it's interesting to note that this film remained progressive even after countless imitations. Most American directors would have probably gunned Juliette down in a hail of bullets for her transgressions (see Russ Meyer's Lorna for a good comparison), but Vadim is squarely on the side of his heroine. None of the men really deserve her, and the final scene leaves interpretations completely open about the characters' future happiness. Despite their wealth and prestige, businessmen like Carradine and Antoine fail to comprehend Juliette or the entire female gender for that matter; their remarks that she "destroys men" are quite ironic indeed. Of course all of these considerations take a back seat to Bardot herself, more of a force than a character. While the film contains no actual nudity per se, apart from the legendary opening profile shot of Bardot's derriere and a few gauzy skin shots behind curtains, the film conveys a powerful atmosphere of sensuality from the opening frames. Bardot's hair becomes wilder and more disheveled as the film progresses, and she provides some unforgettable iconic images along the way. Look no further than the haunting beach scene between Bardot and Marquand, in which she revives him from nearly drowning with a single provocative gesture of her foot. For such a high profile film, And God Created Woman has had a disastrous history on home video. The first VHS version from Vestron was the familiar English dubbed version, with sloppy panning and scanning which demolished the scope photography. Vadim's camera often sets up actors at opposing ends of the frame, and every inch is necessary to appreciate even the simplest dialogue scene. While the familiar Vadim visual flourishes only break out during the powerful Mambo finale, this is a film to be viewed in widescreen or not at all. The problem was only slightly remedied by a British VHS release, in French with English subtitles and partially letterboxed at 1.85:1. Fortunately those versions are obsolete thanks to Criterion's amazing restoration job, which is perfectly letterboxed and boasts an astounding palette of colours. The St. Tropez waters now glow a luminous aquamarine, and Bardot's red dress is saturated a pure, noise-free crimson. The optional English subtitles restore some surprising profanity to the dialogue and fly by quickly at times, so get ready to speed read. Also included is the surprisingly dull American trailer and a restoration demonstration. (Note: Vadim remade this film less successfully in 1986 with Rebecca De Mornay, turning the female lead into a more emancipated former criminal who longs to be a pop star! Pioneer's US R1 DVD is much better than one might expect, and contrary to the packaging, it's letterboxed at 1.85:1, 16:9 enhanced, and contains the full unrated version.)

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