Saturday, March 2, 2013

...And God Created Woman (1956)

WHO: This is an early role for Jean-Louis Trintignant, in this case playing opposite Brigitte Bardot.

WHAT: I think it would be difficult to find a serious critic willing to go to bat for this as a truly great film; Kevin B. Lee concisely outlined most of the film's limitations as well as strengths in one of his early Shooting Down Pictures videos; if you'd rather read than hear his illustrated essay, the transcript is here. I wouldn't know how to make a case for it as a successful film in any meaningful way, although it was successful financially in its day and successful in helping get the gears turning on the beginning of the French New Wave. Unlike Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Rivette & Chabrol, director Roger Vadim never wrote for Cahiers du Cinéma, but because he was able to make such a splash with his first feature before age thirty he became an inspiration to these cineastes (Godard and Truffaut both singled out ...And God Created Woman for praise), and to French financiers looking to tap into market desires for films by youthful directors.

There is something interesting about the film's mise en scène nonetheless. Richard Neupert in his A History of the French New Wave quotes Vadim as saying, "Our generation does not want to retell stories with the same vocabulary that has been used for so long and that not even the neorealists could escape: long shot, medium shot, close up, shot/reverse shot. It has become a nightmare. All films look the same." In ...And God Created Woman the director almost completely eschews close-ups and the shot/reverse shot schematic, building his visual style almost completely out of medium shots and especially long shots, reminiscent perhaps of a Jacques Tati film of the 1950s. Of course this style of filmmaking is no longer very unusual at all especially on the international festival circuit, and directors like Tsai Ming-Liang and Lisandro Alonso have pushed it even further, and to more apparent aesthetic purpose than Vadim's (which seems largely engineered to show off his Saint-Tropez locations, and perhaps to emphasize his stars' bodies over their faces. At any rate it makes what seems to most viewers today to be a rather routine family drama with some uncomfortable social and political undercurrents more than just that for those carefully attuned to how the camera is being used to capture the cast.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. 6:30 PM.

WHY: ...And God Created Woman marks the beginning of the PFA's eleven-film retrospective for the actor currently on minds and screens thanks to his turn in Amour, that lasts this month and next. The series has its share of great films, such as Rohmer's My Night At Maud's, Bertolucci's The Conformist and Robbe-Grillet's Trans-Europ Express. But any good retrospective should include work that shows a range of quality so as not to give the impression that its subject was only involved in masterpieces. So although I appreciate the the opportunities to rewatch favorite films with Trintignant's performances particularly held in mind, I'm just as curious to see how react to films I haven't cared for before (perhaps because I've seen them only on video) like ...And God Created Woman and Z, and to see relatively lesser-known works like The Outside Man, which also plays the Castro March 8th, on a double-bill with The Terminator for some reason.

HOW: 35mm print imported from Institut Français.

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