The term “sex-kitten” was coined for Brigitte Bardot for her sexually liberated role as Juliette in her [then] husband Roger Vadim’s 1956 debut film. Bardot’s exotic nubile beauty is in sync with her orphaned character’s rebellious disavowal of social mores in the seaside town of St. Tropez.
Never before in Cinema had a female character exhibited such an honest reflection of wanton feminine hunger with the goods to back it up. When an old Frenchman describes Bardot’s ass as a “song,” the commentary comes across as apt poetry rather than the vulgar expression it might otherwise seem.
A 22-year-old Bardot plays 18-year-old Juliette, an orphan living with an older disapproving provincial couple intent on returning her to the orphanage where they got her. The house matriarch freely calls Juliette a slut, which seems a stretch considering she doesn't have sex (at least on screen) until after she is married. Then the gloves are off.
Generational battle-lines are drawn, and the war is on. A nudist by nature, Juliette enjoys sunbathing in the raw in her backyard. Male suitors abound. Eric Carradine (Curd Jurgens) is a millionaire powerbroker pushing 60 who wants to build a large hotel in the undeveloped Riveria town of St. Tropez. A capitalist exploiter of all he sees, Carradine has Juliette in his sights, along with a family-owned shipyard run by a couple of brothers (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Christian Marquand) who also desire Juliette. It doesn’t take Carradine long to effect a plan that puts the shipyard in his possession, with Juliette as an inevitable consequence. Juliette becomes a lightening rod for social upheaval as these men with divergent agendas, leverage their positions using her as a bargaining chit.
Vadim cannily puts Bardot’s vibrant physicality to pointed narrative and thematic use during the film’s music-inflected climax. Bardot dances an impromptu mambo with a band of black nightclub musicians who play off of her carefree dance movements while joining in with her. The lively sequence presages the ‘60’s go-go dance craze by more than half a decade. Things get steamy when she reflexively dances in front of a full-length mirror. You could argue that Brigitte Bardot ushered in the ‘60’s era of sexual liberation in this one scene.
Although condemned by some cultural gatekeepers and critics as scandalous — "And God Created Woman" was heavily edited, and dubbed, for his its U.S. release — Bardot’s portrayal of a freethinking young woman became the celebrated subject of Simone de Beauvoir’s 1959 essay “The Lolita Syndrome.” In it, de Beauvoir described Brigitte Bardot as a “locomotive of women’s history.” The petite but curvy actress captured the communal global imaginations of women and men alike. The film adds up to more than Brigitte Bardot’s obvious charms and headstrong attitude about the essentials of life. Here is a social document of the ways that a woman’s allure can fuel, destroy, and build the dreams of men who fall under her spell.
Rated PG. 90 mins. (A) (Five stars - out of five / no stars)