The world was never the same after the introduction of Brigitte Bardot and cinema has this film to thank. Perhaps more well-known for his cult classic Barbarella, Roger Vadim’s film is a sexual romp through the French coast that is as sultry as it is sentimental and serves as one of the fleeting moments of brilliance that existed in France prior to its filmic upheaval that would be the French New Wave. It is at times funny, while at others tragically serious, but despite its wavering it never manages to loose its illustrious Technicolor flow fashioning itself around a young vixen whose on screen presence would forever change the way sexual promiscuity was framed worldwide.
While Juliette (Brigitte Bardot) is the character the films title references, the actual narrative is more concerned with the small Tardieu family as they attempt to secure their living amidst the ever contentious demands of a sleazy businessman whose interests also lie in dominating the young Juliette. An orphan, Juliette fills her days with lackluster work at a bookstore and dancing into midnight, actions which eventually lead her foster mother to banish her, stating that she is to return to a far off boarding school. Realizing her imminent loss if she were to be relocated, Juliette prays on a the middle brother of the family, using his shyness against him and becoming a femme fatale of sorts, ignoring the death associated with the character as it relates to film noir. Her seduction of the middle brother is partially for self-perseverance, but it also is intended to exact revenge on the family’s oldest brother who unknowingly admits his attempts to use Juliette at a late night party. The film then spirals into a abyss of infidelity, double speak and business, which witnesses the Tardieu’s dismissing their land with the promise of earning off of whatever is built. In a fleeting moment, the oldest brother and Juliette engage in an act of intercourse, which ultimately destroys the rather close relationship previously existing between the Tardieu’s. In the classic femme fatale fashion, Juliette remains relatively unharmed and appears to have learned very little from the endeavor making the men’s unrestrained desire the problem, as opposed to the innocence of a young vixen.
The critiques of this film are vast and varied, but I find the most obvious ones to emerge when approaching it from a feminist lens. The first issue is the most blatant, it is a film preoccupied with the male gaze. Our first introduction to Juliette is of her legs as they emerge from behind a dangling sheet. The film then cuts to an old man approaching her with a toy, yet in a moment of cinematic genius it then cuts to a far off house to show that yet another man is gazing at the young girl. In this sense, Juliette cannot escape the gaze of men within the film, let alone the gaze of the films viewers. Furthermore, the film relishes in the notion that Juliette is a sexual object. The eldest son Antoine (Christian Marquand) is never punished for his open claims of desiring to degrade Juliette and, in fact, he is rewarded by eventually claiming her sexually. This lack of concern for Juliette is only furthered by how little is known about her past. It is evident that Juliette is the black sheep of the community, but her association with disdain is rarely elaborated on and instead appears to be from deep seeded jealously on the part of the women in the community, yet another problem addressed by feminist. Jealously is solely the result of a patriarchy that demands women be sexually desirous, an obvious undertone in this films narrative. To put it succinctly the film does not treat women well, but is certain to chastise the men for their actions, perhaps it’s only redeeming feature (besides the luscious Technicolor of course).
This is not one of my favorite Criterion releases by any means, but it is quite good. I would only suggest snagging a copy if you are a CC fanatic and want to one day possess the entire collection.