Young Parisian Genevieve (Brigitte Bardot) is carefree and has an easy life, soon to be made much easier as it appears that she is to inherit a sizeable sum from her recently deceased aunt in Dijon. A brief train journey and an overnight stay at a hotel will confirm that the inheritance is indeed hers. However her hotel room, or at least the one she assumes to be hers, already has a resident, and unfortunately he appears to be virtually dead, from a suicide attempt. She manages to save him and the pair return together to Paris, whereupon he moves into her apartment. He is the fascinating, infuriating, self-motivated and self-loathing Renaud (Robert Hossein). Before long he and Genevieve become lovers but this love comes at a price because her family and friends show strong disapproval of their passionate relationship. Meanwhile Genevieve is also discovering a whole new bourgeois lifestyle of art and jazz with the extremes of culture that it seems to represent. But Genevieve’s new social and artistic interests combined with her passion for her lover have also made her life far less structured. Renaud is nihilistic, occasionally abusive and unfaithful. Can love prevail?
Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman (1956) not only launched Brigitte Bardot as an international film icon and sex symbol but it also prompted debate, notably in the UK, on various issues regarding screenings of non-English language films and representation of sexuality in the cinema, even to adult audiences. While time has seen many changes in what is acceptable for on-screen viewing, the availability of some of the older films, which challenged perceptions at the time, has been varied. The release of Le repos du guerrier on DVD is welcome in a number of ways because it is at once a distinct product of its time but also is surprisingly engaging in its characterisation, particularly within the series of scenarios that it places its central cast. Culturally this takes place before the sixties became notably ‘swinging’ but during a period where society was emerging from a post-war culture, with changes in attitudes to art and literature and the emergence of beatniks as a decadent cultural, artistic ‘otherness’. Genevieve shifts from a conservative, traditional bourgeoisie (even if she always was slightly rebellious) lifestyle into this new world. The contrasts between old and new, culture and class, individuality and community are what makes the film so interesting. Also notable is the use of cinematography. For a contemporary based character piece the distinctly widescreen composition highlights the differences between the external scenery and the intensity of the internal locations and is distinctly filmic. And the film remains open in its depictions of romance, character relationships and sexuality and, although in no ways gratuitous, (despite censorship issues it initially faced) it nevertheless remains unapologetic in its portrayal.
Le repos du guerrier has stood the test of time remarkably well. Hopefully we will see further releases of Vadim’s work, particularly Blood and Roses (1961) (currently the only horror related fantasy from Vadim is his part in the portmenteau Spirits of the Dead), as he is a director whose early work is crying out to be re-evaluated from a modern perspective.