Cette sacrée gamine (1956) and the Appeal of the Gamine

Naughty Girl (1956) is one of those unexceptional comedies that is mildly amusing, and all together forgettable. There are few laughs in this film, it’s even short of chuckles. Aside from a rather beautiful dream/ballet sequence it’s not really worth seeing. I checked it out for Brigitte Bardot. Up to this point, I’ve only ever seen her in Godard’s Le Mepris, one of his best films. This film is made seven years before, but Bardot’s reputation as a sex icon is still firmly established.

However, what both troubles and fascinates me is exactly what kind of sex-pot she happens to be. Even the title of the film (in both languages) points to the fact she is little more than a child, “Girl” or “Gamine”. Reading some of the taglines and advertisements of the day use the phrase “The mind of a child, the body of a woman”. While in her films, it’s made very clear that Bardot is of legal age her appearance and behavior point to someone far younger than is supposed to be. While no opportunity is missed to parade her figure, her hair and face are left almost unchanged to give the appearance of a young girl. She is hardly the first, or the last starlet to have much of their sexual bank-ability based on their Lolita appeal but it’s no less troubling for me.

The film justifies it’s lusting after young girls as “true love”, but there is not a moment when I’m convinced what goes on between Bardot and Jean Bretonnière is a combination of a teenage infatuation and all out lust. Their relationship is contrasted with Jean Bretonnière’s romance with his fiancée, a beautiful and feminine doctor. She has everything Bardot’s character does, but she is intelligent, and actually a woman. Jean Bretonnière eventual choice of Bardot over his fiancée points to a general trend and fear of strong and intelligent women.

The film is given many opportunities to take a self-reflective look at the ideas it’s perpetuating. It might have actually made a more interesting film. From what I can tell, Bardot actually does have a talent for comedy and is very appealing. It’s a shame she was stuck with such lackluster, and problematic comedies as this. She’s certainly very beautiful and confident, and in the right situation (Le Mepris) her talents and image is used to good effect.

Comparatively, you have a film like Charade (1962), starring Hepburn and Grant that is not only an all around superior film but is unafraid to poke a little fun at the matchings of young stars with much older men. Grant himself always felt uncomfortable late in his career being paired with women half his age, and was unafraid to express this sentiment. The film is far more egalitarian in it’s portrayal of the sexes, at least despite the age differences the characters are emotionally and intellectually on similar levels. Comedy and film is so much more appealing and interesting when filmmakers take this stance instead of opting for the gamine appeal. For me at least, it’s films like His Girl Friday and Charade that are rewarding as sex comedies. Or else something like Lolita that takes a darker and more humourous look at the sexualization of youth among other things.

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