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Images of Women in French Cinema

In this paper I’m going to conduct a comprehensive study of gender roles through the analysis of female roles in French cinema from the post-World War II period to the 1990s. I decided to focus on researching the construction of masculinity and femininity in the 1950’s and 1960’s France. My analysis will be based upon two films created during that period, namely “And God Created woman” (1956) by Roger Vadim and “Lola Montes” (1955) by Max Ophuls, and one film referring to that period, namely “The Dreamers” (2003) by Bernardo Bertolucci.

The first noteworthy feature of French cinema of the 1950’s and 1960’s (as well as of the public discourse in general) is the growing interest and desire to discuss gender issues. “Most work on film by feminists has been in terms of the kinds of images of women represented in films: the stereotypes presented of women, the types of parts women play and the kinds of stories told about women in films. ” (Cowrie, 2000, p. 48) Never before have gender identities been challenged and transformed in the public arena. But I’ll start with discussing images of women in the 1950’s cinema.

In “Lola Montes,” the main heroine was a notorious adventurer and was involved with different important men of the 19th century. Lola Montes and the many men in her life is director Max Ophuls most controversial, if not his greatest work. The trajectory of the female subject at the centre of the film is unexpected: she used to be the lover of the brightest me of that age, but ended being the attraction of her circus. It’s not as touching as the story of Evita, but very interesting in terms of constructing female identity.

The film constructs a dangerous history and therefore is worthy of its description as a feminist masterpiece. The director resists the temptation to make Lola solely an evil character. While the spectators are allowed to make up their own mind about Lola, she is ultimately allowed to choose whether she will give in and be destroyed by her tormenters at the circus, or whether she will escape through the only route open to her. The question that runs through the mind of the spectator all the times is whether she is a slot or queen. She was a brilliant accompanier to King Ludwig of Bavaria and Franz Liszt.

She was pretty independent and well-educated, but still she had to take up lovers to support her. Again, is she simply a shadow of the great man of France, Italy, Poland, and Russia, or she is a reasoned advisor and passionate muse of them? Lola does a good job of showing how quickly they can be reduced to idiots when seduced by love or lust. How does it correspond to the prevailing idea of man’s superiority? We always have to look beyond surface. In the times where fame indiscretions can make a nobody a shining star, Lola Montes as a character is perhaps a little dated in her relatively kind treatment of her men.

Still, the very public interest in her private life is all too familiar. Nowadays the debate about separation of public and private as a detriment to women’s rights has reached its peak, but this issue has always been of interest to society. Indeed, the construction of female identity is controversial. The controversy is added by the form of narrative Ophul chooses. All those beautiful times are nothing more than a colourful flashback of ill, pretty much destroyed, faded and old Lola, who is exploited by a slimy ringmaster. What is left of her dignity and fame?

The general tone of the film is rather pessimistic and the key idea is that women are always dependant on men around. The fact that Lola does not win over her past is hardly surprising given the time and culture in which the film was made. As for the scandalous “And God Created woman,” where Brigitte Bardot appeared partially nude and sexually engaged with three men, was sexually titillating. This movie is very close to pornography, because “And God Created Woman” created the concept of the “art film” as a 1950’s euphemism for movies with nude scenes.

And even soft-core porn is dangerous for women as it encourages the use of female body for sexual satisfaction. I think that the film is less concerned with gender identities, but rather with shocking the spectators and critics. Brigitte Bardot appeared nude in the first scene and she is a brazen sexpot. “And God Created Woman” is as risque as any motion picture could get, and Brigitte Bardot is the most vivid symbol of sex on the screen and she genuinely conveys her sensuality to an audience.

She is the epitome of the classic celluloid sex kitten. Bardot stars as teenage girl Juliette Hardy. Her appearance on the screen in such an image contributed the so-called “Lolita syndrome. ” The girl was raised in an orphanage and released into the cruel world. She starts a love affair with Eric Carradine, a middle-aged millionaire. Apart from it, the spectator can guess about her wild sexual escapades. When she marries Michel, she uses the institution of marriage for her own good.

Juliette doesn’t need to go back to the orphanage and she can be close to her real love, Antoine, for the ample reason that the family would live in the same house and together. This again means that a woman doesn’t have a social value on her own. Woman always should be supported, promoted and kept by her husband. But in those times the desire of a woman and her circumstances often contradicted; women couldn’t dream of a chance to choose partners freely. Juliette’s marriage is also a miscarriage, and her arrangement leads to inevitable trouble.

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