Dubious Date Night Double Feature – And God Created Woman / Are We Not Cats

…And God Created Woman [Et Dieu… créa la femme] (1956)

The first feature film directed by Roger Vadim (Barbarella), this film is notable as the career breakthrough for both Brigitte Bardot (launching her “sex kitten” reputation) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (setting the pattern for a career playing against the alpha male cliché). Although the film had a more mature attitude to Bardot’s character than I expected, it was still disappointingly confused in its attitude to women.

Juliette (Bardot) is an openly sexual 18-year-old orphan who bores easily and didn’t take well to the constraints of the religiously-run orphanage where she was raised. She flirts with wealthy older man Eric Carradine (Curd Jürgens) but has a long-term crush on Antoine Tardieu (Christian Marquand), oldest of three brothers.

Pretty much the entire town seems incapable of viewing Juliette in any terms other than her sexual availability. Most of the women see her as a slut with no work ethic. Her friend Lucienne (Isabelle Corey) sees her as a fun friend with whom she can party and pick up boys. Antoine is perfectly happy to promise her anything to get her into bed, but has no intentions of following through on his promises because he sees her as easy and plans to marry his boss’ daughter. She overhears his plans and confronts him, but he’s incapable of understanding why this means she won’t sleep with him. Eric is less creepy than I expected – he’s very straightforward about being a wealthy older man who will shower her with gifts in return for sex, but he also seems to genuinely admire her independent spirit and doesn’t take advantage of her when he has the opportunity.

When Juliette is in danger of being returned to the orphanage, Antoine’s shy younger brother Michel (Trintignant) offers to marry her so she can stay. Juliette is genuinely invested in making the relationship work, but after a boating accident while Michel is out of town, Antoine (who has been brooding over his missed opportunity) takes blatant advantage of her while she’s emotionally vulnerable, practically abandons her by the roadside and immediately goes home to tell his mum what a dirty slut his brother’s wife is. Antoine and his mother both put the blame entirely on Juliette and assume that Michel will immediately dump her. When she disappears in a state of distress before Michel can talk to her, Antoine tells Michel that she’s a whore and tries to lock him in a warehouse to prevent him from looking for her. Although Eric eventually helps Michel to reconcile with Juliette, there’s an uncomfortable physical element to this scene which doesn’t play well these days.

Although Eric forces Antoine to leave town with him, recognising that Antoine is the one to blame, the discussion they go on to have about Juliette seems to cut against Eric’s previously expressed sympathy for her, characterising her instead as a disaster waiting to happen to any man in her vicinity. I’d like to think this was simply a lie he told Antoine to encourage him to stay away, but perhaps it’s a case of life leaking into the script – writer/director Vadim was married to Bardot at the time, but during this film she began an affair with Trintignant, which may have soured Vadim’s attitude towards her more than he was willing to admit. Whatever the reason, as this exchange between Eric and Antoine is the last dialogue in the film, it reads as a closing statement which leaves a nasty aftertaste of misogyny.

Are We Not Cats (2016)

This is a difficult movie to characterise, which would explain why so many of the descriptions I’ve come across are inaccurate. In common with the IMDb and many websites, SBS has categorised this as a horror movie, which (with the possible exception of one scene) it most definitely is not. IMDb also calls it a comedy, which perhaps, at a stretch, you could consider to be semi-accurate. What these attempted categorisations dodge around is that, at its core, this movie is a romance – a weird romance with a tendency to wallow in ugly bodily functions and largely populated by people who are difficult to like, but still a romance. Adding “comedy” or “horror” as descriptive terms seems to be an attempt to explain away the elements that are… less characteristic of the romance genre.

Most summaries of Are We Not Cats begin like this: “A young man seeks a new beginning after losing his job, his girlfriend and his apartment on the same day.” Except, again, this isn’t particularly accurate in its specifics. Eli (Michael Patrick Nicholson) is seen at the beginning of the film riding on the side of a rubbish collection truck, before jumping off to visit a girl he likes and borrow her shower. Although this is clearly a regular occurrence, there is no indication that she has ever been his girlfriend in any realm outside of his own head – she refuses to let him in because she now has a boyfriend, and she clearly feels his constant use of her shower is creepy, speculating about restraining orders. When he returns to the garbage truck, everything the driver says suggests that rather than working as a garbage collector, Eli really just uses the truck as free transport, which won’t be happening any more. And Eli doesn’t really lose his apartment – he returns to his parents’ house, where he’s been living rent-free, to find that they’ve sold it and are moving somewhere else. Out of what I assume is a lingering sense of parental responsibility, his father offers to give him their removal truck (which he was going to sell for $500) in return for Eli moving all of his belongings out of the house immediately (going straight into the back of the truck).

“Seeking a new beginning” is a generous description for Eli’s actions – hanging around friends who don’t seem to particularly like him, making up stories about his situation which they don’t appear to believe, and asking offhandedly if anybody needs any work done. He lucks into a driving job because of his truck, transporting a motor across the country for $100 cash in hand, but reaches his destination five hours behind schedule. This leads to him giving a lift to Kyle (Michael Godere), a guy with entitlement issues who forces him to share a drink of something strongly alcoholic which is clearly not intended for human consumption. Apparently this counts as some form of male bonding ritual, because Kyle drags him to a small underground sludge club where Eli becomes fascinated with Anya (Chelsea Lopez), Kyle’s girlfriend. After he lets them crash in his truck overnight, Anya thanks Eli as she leaves and tells him where she works. Eli makes a nuisance of himself hanging out in the club with its owner all day, falls asleep drunkenly humping a cushion he imagines is a girl, then steals the club’s organ while everyone else is sleeping. He then treks north to Anya’s workplace to get a job there and give her the organ as a present.

Astonishingly, despite this desperate assholery and borderline stalker behaviour, Eli and Anya are actually a good match and it eventually becomes possible to hope that their relationship will work out. The shared activity which really draws them together, though, is a mutual obsession for plucking and eating their own body hair (with the tenuous connection to the title of the movie coming in when we see Anya vomiting up huge chunks of hair). While this isn’t their sole point of connection, this activity informs the development of their relationship through the rest of the film, from getting to know each other through the central crisis point (including the one scene which could be classified as horror) to its resolution and strangely sweet aftermath.

Chelsea Lopez as Anya is really the key to enjoying this film. It could be argued that her character embodies elements of the “manic pixie dream girl” cliché, but she works hard to make her character more difficult to classify, and the overall willingness of the film to dwell on the grotesque plays against these elements. The other major characters (and several of the minor characters) are difficult to spend time with and I found it a chore getting as far as Lopez’s first appearance, but if you buy into the charm of her performance, she should carry you through all the way to the end.

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