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And Vadim Creates Another Woman

May 17, 1987|DONALD CHASE

SANTA FE, N.M. — After performing at a political fund-raiser at the Museum of Fine Arts here, rock 'n' roller Rebecca De Mornay strides off the stage with gubernatorial hopeful Frank Langella--and runs smack dab into her carpenter husband, Vincent Spano.

Considering the situation--she's had an affair with Langella and Spano knows it--the dialogue between the three is remarkably civilized, the delivery unheated.

That, said stage and screen Dracula Langella when the camera stopped churning, is because the director, Roger Vadim, is "good at handling a scene like this lightly and still giving it meaning. He's French, and the French don't take these things too seriously." In contrast, "Americans tend to take all moments regarding sex and love much too seriously."

The director, who is actually of Russian origin, may also account for why De Mornay looks like a punky version of Brigitte Bardot in the 1950s (the mussy blonde topknot) and Jane Fonda in the 1960s (the peachy-pink lips and black eye liner). Vadim was married to both women and directed both in films. In fact, the $5-million film that he's making here (for release by Vestron late this year or early next) is called "And God Created Woman."

It will ring familiar. That also was the title of a 1957 succes de scandale that unleashed in both France and the United States a phenomenon Life magazine called "Bardolatry"--and also heaped celebrity status onto the director, then 27.

For the post-"Last Tango in Paris" generation, it's hard to imagine the shock waves detonated by the original "Woman." Other movies of the time may have, as Vadim claims, exposed more flesh. But in the middle of the De Gaulle-Eisenhower years, a movie heroine (Bardot) who shamelessly and guiltlessly shared beds with her husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his brother (Christian Marquand) was both new and cause for controversy. What was "amorality" to liberal-intellectual critics was "immorality" to others--the U.S. Catholic Church's Legion of Decency, for example, which gave the film a "Condemned" rating.

All of which sent box-office receipts soaring: American ticket sales for the subtitled and dubbed versions of "And God Created Woman" exceeded $4 million (the equivalent of $16 million today), an enormous sum for a film from a non-English-speaking country.

"And yet," said Rebecca De Mornay of the original "Woman," "there are really unusual moments within the sensuality. There was a sincerity about it and an opting for the truths of the situation as opposed to let's-make-a-sexy-love-scene."

De Mornay has had her share of offbeat roles. She was a seductive hooker turning Tom Cruise's life upside down in "Risky Business." In "Runaway Train," she was a railway laborer caught up in the violence of a prison escape. She next stars with John Travolta, playing an undercover street cop in Cannon Films' "Crack," about the penetration of a corrupt NYC narcotics division.

"And God Created Woman," she said, is "sensual"--but she doesn't think its love scenes are "going to shock anybody." (Co-executive producer and Vestron production v.p. Steve Reuther expects an "R" rating.) The prospect of something "bold" in other ways and "sincere," again, is what attracted her to the new "Woman."

But what is "bold" in 1987?

"I think that movies have killed eroticism," Roger Vadim said. "By showing too much you kill the mystery, and when there is no more mystery you kill eroticism. And the idea of scandal doesn't exist anymore. I think there is no way to scandalize people today unless you write a story about the Pope making love to young boys or a woman eating her children.

"What is important for me here," he continued, "is once again to tell the story of a sexy, funny and somewhat outrageous young woman within a social context. That's why, even though practically everything about the original has been changed and I don't consider this to be in any sense a remake, I feel justified in using the title." The title, he admitted, also helped him raise the development money for the new film.

"Santa Fe in the '80s," the director began noting differences between the first "Woman" and the new one, "is not St.-Tropez in the '50s, except perhaps in the sense that there is no real gap between classes. Rich people, artists, blue collar and Indian--different parts of the society mix together easily, which was true of St.-Tropez before it became the circus it is now.

"And, more important, in the last 30 years women have won many freedoms--social freedom, professional freedom, sexual freedom. Robin, the girl in the film, claims all these freedoms--in a way that's cerebral, she's aware of her personality, while Bardot behaved totally instinctively."

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