Masculin Feminin (Godard, 1966)

Link to a more formal review at the end.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m going back to some Godard films, and it looks like I’m hovering in the mid-60s for the time being.  More rambling below:

Maculin Feminin is famous for a particular intertitle that proclaims its protagonists as children of “Marx and Coca-Cola,” two things that are obviously at odds with one-another philosophically.  It’s a film that I think really demonstrates Godard’s eventual break from true narrative, and one of the last real – or at least fully comprehensible – stories he would tell on celluloid.  Paul (Jean-Pierre Leaud of 400 Blows fame) and Madeleine (French pop-star Chantal Goya) are young lovers.  She’s a bit reluctant.  He’s the pursuer.  He’s semi-idealist, frequently spouting off about wars, capitalism, and the state of France.  She wants to be a pop star.  She has a few friends, including Catherine (Catherine-Isabelle Duport) who is likely also in love with Paul.  Whether he returns her affections physically is unseen.

In typical Godard fashion the narrative is disjointed in its harsh cuts and devices (direct-to-camera interviews, jump cuts monologues, etc).  There are plenty of references, including one where Paul references Pierrot Le Fou (a Godard film/character from the previous year) and even refers to Jean-Pierre Leaud.  This is another unsympathetic film from Godard, which is interesting, given his reputation to that point for free-wheeling, jazz-induced films, that he would still look at his subjects with a wary eye even while they are performing a youthful dance number.

There’s also plenty of reference to literature, philosophy, economics, and cinema.  Sometimes these can get tiresome.  Sometimes they take on the form of a game: what is he referencing and why?

Apparently Ingmar Bergman did not like Godard’s films, and Godard, perhaps knowing this (?) includes a reputed reference to Bergman’s famous The Silence.  Godard’s version feels like Alphaville in its mobile camera, blank walls, and Eddie Constantine-like male protagonist.

I wonder what Godard’s average shot length (ASL) is.  His camera hovers, and he during conversations he tends to eschew reaction shots entirely.  Typical Hollywood convention = reaction shots tell the story as much, if not more, than the dialogue.  This is frequently true, and a good editor can really make them sing.  Godard’s plan seems to be to make us infer reactions, and he writes his dialogue so that it won’t exact any one reaction, but could elicit a range.  By withholding them he therefore makes us work a bit harder to understand what could (should?) be an easy-to-follow, from an emotional and psychological standpoint, conversation.  Think of it this way: you’re watching a film where a man and woman talk back and forth.  The man tells the woman he loves her.  She doesn’t answer.  In most films, even though she doesn’t answer, we cut to her and her eyes, position of her head, mouth, etc, tell us how she’s responding to this profession of love.  In Godard’s film, there’s no such cut to her.  Is she happy he loves her?  Annoyed?  Angry?  We don’t know.  We’re playing catch-up, therefore, for much of the film.  It’s an interesting technique, albeit sometimes maddening.

There’s an odd moment in Masculin Feminin when Godard cuts away from Paul and Madeleine to show an extended conversation between two side characters: Catherine and Paul’s friend Robert (Michel Debord).  They’re in an uninteresting looking kitchen, the technique of few reaction shots is at its height, and Robert is trying to get Catherine to go out with him.

A few things worth noting: first, it’s a slight replay of a scene where Paul initially asks Catherine out.  What does this mean?  That all men are the same?  That all women are the same?  That youthful interactions lack any depth?  Second, we spend most of the time with her.  ASL here has to be something like 2 minutes.  She’s half paying attention, half playing hard-to-get.  This is a different strategy though, because Robert is the obvious one.  We know his reaction, so, as opposed to other moments of the film, we aren’t left to guess his thoughts.  Instead, we are forced to watch Catherine’s in their entirety.  The reversal of the aforementioned strategy is really uncomfortable at times (though not nearly as much so as another scene involving a woman where an offscreen Paul peppers her with questions, revealing her “stupidity”).  It’s also revealing in that Godard is able to reinforce the malaise of his youthful characters.  He repeats himself, she repeats her reactions.  It’s tedious and almost tiresome, but the length eventually bears out and justifies itself when it ends with nothing gained, which is how the film ultimately ends.

It’s hard not to ramble when talking about Godard.  As in 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, there’s plenty of reference to capitalism and consumerism.  While it may seem like a neat divide: the men talk politics in cafes, the women shop and laugh, neither comes out the better.  The film is rather dystopic.  Politics are as empty and juvenile as cutting a record.

http://www.soundonsight.org/masculin-feminin-is-a-film-on-a-precipice/

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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