Une femme mariée: Suite de fragments d'un film tourné en 1964 (A Married Woman) Reviews
This is a truly magnificent film.
Before, we had seen a Godard showcasing his array of political, social, philosophical, cinematic, artistic and poetic sources of inspiration that constituted one of the most brilliant minds in movie history. The majority of the male characters were replicas of Godard's perceptions about a world full of contradictory human stupidity and how art reflects the human condition, and the majority of the female characters were physically gorgeous fragments about his ideal wife. However, the message seemed ironically close-minded, like stated facts instead of stated opinions, transforming the plots into secondary devices that functioned as vehicles that moved his own train of thought. Forever it will be a fascinating train of thought, even if it seemed not to accept an alternating point of view, even if some philosophers promote dialogue as a means to exteriorize our capacity to coexist in our undeniable condition of social beings. Finally, the Kitchen Sink Realism and the Film Noir collided with his own vivid, jazzy and inreasingly anarchic trademarks of moviemaking, resulting in a legendary celluloid pot.
This is different.
For the first time, the characters feel shockingly human even if they reflect the complex admiration that Godard had to several sources. The film opens with a strikingly haunting piece of erotic visual poetry between a man and a woman. Who are they? Is he already the lover, or will the film open with the marital relationship? Since the beginning, the film whispers gently: "It doesn't matter". As two souls explore each other, we are left breathless (pun very much intended), reflecting on the passionate authenticity of the images depicted, while whispered dialogue constructs an anecdotic structure of memories, past, present, sex, intelligence, childhood, love, theater, not in that order.
With this human authenticity the constant references to pop culture, consummerist tendences, art and cinema finally manage to become one whole cohesive product under Godard's lens. They react to their personalities, and their personalities react to these influences. In this way, their credibility and layers of psychological depth are raised through the roof. Maybe this is the first time he achieves this, while evolving his filmmaking style at an incredible speed since 1960, now characterized by flawless close-ups and long tracking shots, given his extremely prolific filmography. We conclude that one is married more to our own conflicting ideals and stereotypical behavior imposed by a society full of image-oriented tendencies than to our authentic selves, because it is each time more difficult to find the purest version of ourselves.
The review by IMDB user "Nilbog!" says that "this one, while no classic, is essential viewing for anyone interested in Godard's progression from brilliant filmmaker to serious artist." That is one perfect description of his vision's evolution, a beautiful piece of evidence favoring his versatility, and one of the best films of the year.
Méril plays the title character Charlotte, who's uneasily married to a pilot but loves a local actor. She's not exactly a charmer -- she is distant, hesitant, not too bright and spends a lot of time in her underwear despite a somewhat doughy, unappealing physique. Vacantly living in the moment, she says her policy is "never to think twice about anything." She's quite concerned with her looks, and frets over her bustline and envies models in brassiere ads. Of course, the shots of her with magazines and billboards just reflect Godard's usual bent of portraying young women as flighty products of a commercialized culture. His strained insertion of personal influences is equally blunt and characteristic. Names such as Moliere, Rosselini, Dietrich and Cocteau (plus several others who may require Googling) pepper the dialogue and visuals.
Uncompromising from the start, the film opens with several minutes of conversation shards between Charlotte and her lover Robert. Godard is fascinated with shooting her nude body from a variety of demure closeups, and each new camera position brings a handful of enigmatic lines which may or may not make sense out of context. The same approach is repeated later with husband Pierre. Another odd motif is stringing together Charlotte's incomplete thought snippets as whispered narration. "In the middle of the corridor, hope...the image of a young girl...who am I?...exactly...the verb to follow, other reasons...I was once...not here, a year ago...only once, wasn't it?...it's his fault...then reality...." What? Maybe something was lost in the translation.
Charlotte hops between two worlds, meeting Robert during the day and Pierre and her young son at night. She takes juvenile pleasure in her secrecy, giddily switching taxi cabs like a furtive spy and imagining herself as an Alfred Hitchcock heroine. There isn't much plot -- she talks of divorcing her husband and going away with Robert, but there is no fierce pressure to decide. Pregnancy concerns also go unresolved. Instead, the action is mostly about Godard's various quirks and contrivances, which include a swimming scene flipped negative, offbeat references to Nazi concentration camps, a prolonged listen to a record of a woman laughing, a daring shot (for 1964) which suggests Charlotte giving herself a pubic trim, an absurd gadget to enforce good posture and a café chat where two girls' words are printed onscreen (presumably to simulate advertising captions?). There are also seven numbered segments with heady title cards like "Memory," "The Present" and "Childhood" -- the most interesting of them are "Intelligence" (offering some sharp philosophy from writer Roger Leenhardt) and "The Theatre and Love" (where Charlotte presses a flustered Robert to explain the difference between professional acting and one's calculated, real-life persona).
Certainly, "A Married Woman" is essential for Godard fans. But several of his other films should be seen first.
"You just need to know what's behind my eyes."
"What is behind them?"
"Every time you come home you ask such complicated questions."
"I love you. Maybe that's why it's complicated."
Few, if any, eras of any filmmaker's career were as consistently fully realized and masterful as the 60s were for Godard. "Une femme mariee" bears striking resemblance to the intimate character study of "Vivre sa vie"; the complex emotional landscape of a woman trapped by the desires of men. While maintaining his characteristic playful visual poetry, this also seems to be one of Godard's most intimate works. Voiceover whispers to you the prose of unravelling thoughts, that cannot be whispered to anyone else. She is a woman trapped, certainly, inside her own mind. And this invisible film in her head seems to be her only promise of escape.
I'm sure if you watch this, you'll see I have the quite fortunate problem of seeing the movie I want to see when I see a film by Godard. The possibilities of the fragments of his imagination he injects into his narratives is more powerful than the certain, force-fed meaning of a thousand "normal" films.
The woman is caught between the man she loves, an actor, and a husband she still feels for. In the long intellectual dialogue of each encounter, and in her own insight between takes -an evocative voice-over- we have all the clues to understand her situation, one in which she can't help but to love both men and, in consequence, begins to fool them both.
I didn't expect it, but the characters of Une Femme Mariée -the woman, played by the sultry Macha Méril, her husband and her lover, are three of the most human characters I've seen in any of Godard's films. Every take is drenched in anxiety and poetry, and even through their long conversations about love and fidelity and committment, the woman and her two partners are perpetually earthy and tangible. Not only is this a highlight within the director's work, it also makes Une Femme Mariée very easy to connect with and a very easy film to feel. Beyond observing, we can put ourselves in these situations.
The film only covers about a day and a half in the woman's life, so it can offer no resolutions. The progressions are ambiguous, yet fascinating. Those peculiarities, along with its unusual structure, could've made UFM alienting; however, Godard, in full control of his narrative style, makes it work so that it feels like watching a piece of life, filtered in the purest way through black and white cinematography and the music of Beethoven.
We get a lot of scenes of characters just talking to one another, asking questions, sometimes in documentary form. Whether it's really Godard off camera asking the questions and turning it into a docu-narrative of some sort (the old Bazinian logic taken to an extreme that an actor in front of a camera is still in a documentary of the actor acting on camera perhaps), or the characters themselves is kept a little unclear. But this doesn't distract from the dialog and monologues being generally, genuinely intriguing and moving even. There's one scene in particular that I shall not forget easily, no pun intended, when Pierre, the husband, espouses about memory and how "impossible" it is for him to forget, and how rotten it can be for someone who has dealt with real horror (he recalls a story, as his character is a pilot, of talking to Roberto Rossellini about a concentration camp victim and memory and that it made him laugh - again, a very harsh contrast of Dachau and Auschwitz mentioned for interpretation).
This and a few other times when characters just go off on something has a lasting impact. Une femme Mariee is filled with the sort of cinematic rhythm that would immediately say to someone unfamiliar with foreign/art-house film, let alone Godard, "oh, that's an 'arty' movie". It certainly is: everything from its themes of alienated characters to its lyrical and original cinematography to the repetition of the Beethoven music (later used in Prenom Carmen) to image itself becomes an issue like when Charlotte obsesses over ladies wearing bras in a magazine, it's all from an artist who expresses his concerns in a my-way-or-the- highway attitude to the audience. And you want to go along with him, if curious enough, to see where he'll take his trio of characters in the Parisian settings. Sometimes there's even weird, dark humor, like when Charlotte finds a random record of some woman in agony and it's the sound of a woman just laughing - something that Charlotte and Pierre listen to in silence until Charlotte wants to put on another record and she becomes like a little kid trying to put it on without Pierre getting in her way.
What looks disjointed and without a plot is deceptive when looking at it in pieces. But somehow Godard's film works as a whole piece, and it's part of the point to find this character Charlotte not easy to figure out. The men in her life barely know themselves. And by the end, when it should be about the melodrama of a baby on the way, Godard side- steps this (already dealing with it comically in A Woman is a Woman), by making it about something else on the surface and underneath full of tension. Notice how demanding Charlotte is of answers from Robert about what it means to be an actor. He answers well and stands his ground, but it becomes noticeable that it's not about getting answers on acting or real love but about this woman's tortured self-made life. It's not emotionally gripping, but it gets one to think and it's this that makes Godard's film special in his cannon of great 1960's works.