Masculin Feminin Reviews
Of the five Godard films I've seen (and am going to see), this is the best, but that's not saying much. Normally, I begin my reviews with a sentence-long plot outline, but Godard is so entrenched in the post-structuralist disapproval of the typical story arc that it makes it difficult to render the film so simply. Rather, I think I can only report what I experienced while watching the film and hope it makes more sense than the film.
I think the film attempts to juxtapose the hedonistic tendency of the sixties against the decade's political turmoil. We see a flighty, apolitical pop song artist pursued by the politically aware but inactive Paul. He prioritizes his libido above his political concerns, but this can only last so long.
The film, in typical post-modern fashion, dives away from the plot into political rants that only tangentially connect to the main action.
Overall, Masculin Feminin is jumbled and often incoherent but ultimately rewarding.
Jean Luc Godard introduces us to this environment as to simply show us in detail what the hip up-and-coming generation of the 60s thinks, or doesn-t think, what it loves and loathes, what troubles or doesn't trouble it. Paul is a pseudo-intellectual journalist, writer, and activist, who falls for a rising pop star, Madeleine. This is hardly relevant; what truly matters is that by following their relationship we get to listen to their conversations.
The ride is fascinating because it's easy to relate to it. Amid the troubling scenario of the War in Vietnam, traces of French socialism and the apathy of a great deal of his generation, Paul has to combine both what he feels as his political commitment and his desire to simply be young and have fun, have sex, listen to music, be silly, drink Coca-Cola? The film, Godard says, might as well be named "The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola": a living contradiction, almost a double life. Paul, who is concerned with what happens around him, struggles to combine his need to be opinionated with his inherent position as a part of the superfluous so-called Pepsi generation Madeleine, his girlfriend, is so enthusiastically devoted to. At a certain point, it's unavoidable to see that Paul, who represents a part of Parisian youth, is caught up between two interests, and he's desperate to find some clarity, only he doesn't know it. Madeleine and her friends, on the other hand, are isolated from their political reality, too often combing their hair, talking about boys and giggling.
I found the story to be a very fascinating character study. Chantal Goya is downright lovely and sporadically annoying to perfection. Jean Pierre Leaud is the best actor to ever play "angry young men" without becoming a cliche, he does it with no self-preservation instincts, risking ridicule with all sorts of antics, spontaneity, a total lack of self-confidence, and humor, only to suddenly become collected, frustrated, angry, or sad. He takes Paul from extreme to extreme of the emotional scale. I loved his performance. My only complaint would be that the girls of the film are too frigid, too shallow, and too foolish. But perhaps this is what the girls of the Pepsi generation appeared to Godard.
Stylistically, it's an achievement. The photography is very beautiful throughout. The way the film is structured overall could have been very pretentious, but it seems pertinent as I watched. Although Godard's philosophic pauses between chapters may be utterly incomprehensible sometimes, some were pretty clever. What truly stands out, though, is the dialogue: Paul delivers line after line of razor-sharp phrases like a machine gun. Most observations by all the different characters range from the very intelligent, to the stereotypical, to the confusing and the shallow, which is why the script never bores and never wears out.
Look out for a fantastic parody of 60s European eroticism (allegedly of Ingmar Bergman's The Silence) and what some of the characters think of it. It's a brilliant moment.
[font=Century Gothic][color=#ff8c00]Which brings me to "Masculine-Feminine" which centers on the life of a would be revolutionary who has just gotten out of the army. He goes through a couple of jobs while romancing a would be pop singer. It's not bad but there is not a lot of depth here, either.[/color][/font]
Godard's attitudes have, of course, dated over the course of a half-century - but the way he expresses them, the way he captures 1960s youth, have not. To be a successful Godard film is certainly not an easy thing. A director who can hardly suppress his love for bizarre sound manipulations ("Masculin Féminin" itself is often soundtracked by a single, cartoonish gun shot that seemingly comes out of nowhere) and teleprompter-ready intellectual speak, it doesn't take much for a Godard film to go from zero to insufferably pretentious miles-per-hour in an instant.
But most of the time, Godard keeps the politically/intellectually minded atmosphere humorous and engaging, even if you can't quite put your finger on why watching Jean-Pierre Léaud dive into a radically liberal speech is entrancing. The kiddos of "Masculin Féminin", all in their late-teens/early 20s, spend most of their time smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee in stylish cafés around the city, delighting each other in their oh-so-adult conversations and escaping in movies they know they're smarter than. All attractive, all high in their hopes, all avant-garde, they regard sex as a breezy pastime, responsibilities as a chore they can save for later. They act worldly, name-dropping Sartre whenever the time comes, but heaven knows they would be much more content swimming in each other's cerebral coolness than actually do something with their lives. Leading lady Chantal Goya, who portrays the ambitious Madeline Zimmer, wants to become a yé-yé singer - but does she know that Sylvie Vartan and Françoise Hardy were one-in-a-million chanteuses hard to recreate?
"Masculin Féminin" is about everything while also being about nothing. It covers just about every topic found in the mind of a '60s dwelling youth, but it knows that these are just fleeting thoughts, especially when considering most of the stuff happening internationally is the responsibility of the leader of the free world (whoever that is, a character might accidentally grunt). A café is perched just a block down the street and, last time I checked, I wasn't the leader of the free world.
The film doesn't take itself seriously, and its actors are likable; New Wave staple Léaud is always so fascinating to watch (don't ask me why), and Goya, looking like a typical Anna Karina-type, enchants with her childlike smile and jet-black, Anna Wintour reminiscent bob. "Masculin Féminin" is Godard at his most focused, his most audience oriented - it is a pleasure from start to finish, even if we don't quite have a grip on what we just watched.
You know, I say this a lot, but this film really captures the zeitgeist. This is France in 1965, the youth, the feeling...the closest thing to being there.
And, of course, being Godard in his prime, it's wildly creative, topical, witty and whimsical. Un charme.