Sunday, 9 March 2008

Masculin Feminin (1966, France/Sweden, Jean-Luc Godard)

'Masculin Feminin', a film in fifteen chapters, is not so much a film about youth, but in Godard's own words a film about "the idea of youth" and as one of the chapter titles suggests"the children of Marx and Coca-Cola". This is a generation which is both political but reared on pop culture, and Godard captures it at a very specific time, nominally expressed through the awkward courtship between Paul (Jean-Pierre Leaud) and Madeleine (Chantal Goya).

He's just completed his national service and works as a journalist; she's an aspiring pop singer (Goya was a real life ye ye singer). They meet, discuss politics and culture, though they barely have a thing in common. He seems a lot more interested in her than she does him and therein lies much of the comedy, such as his terrible attempts to flip his cigarette into his mouth as if he's Jean-Paul Belmondo in 'Breathless'.

Typically radical with narrative and structure, Godard throws in numerous random and bizarre events - a couple arguing behind Paul and Madeleine in a cafe, then the wife shoots the husband as they leave, a man intimidating Paul inexplicably sticks a blade into his chest, a woman shoots two black men on the Metro, a man borrows matches and then sets himself alight - all of these are random acts of violence which have no real impact on the film whatsoever, but remain anarchic and spontaneous, in keeping with not only this film but much of Godard's work to date. As befitting the increasing influence of Godard's leftist politics into his films, the spectre of Vietnam and US involvement is everywhere. The self-immolating man performs this act in protest, whilst Paul participates in the vandalism of US vehicles, daubing anti-American slogans on them - 'Peace in Vietnam' etc. France at that point was politically to the right with the re-election of De Gaulle as president. Godard had always been critical of the de Gaulle regime, describing the upheaval in Paris in 1968 as the direct result of the authoritarianism of the republic.

There are the usual pop culture references (Bob Dylan, Sandie Shaw) and film intertextuality (Bridgette Bardot, star of 'Le Mepris' rehearses lines, Paul and Madeleine watch a parody of Bergman's 'The Silence', Madeleine mentions Godard's own 'Pierrot le Fou'). However the disconnected structure feels a bit too alienating, though maybe that's the point. Godard favoured Brechtian methods of distancing audiences from his films, removing them from any natural and realistic context. Godard's weaker films are usually more interesting than most directors better films, and 'Masculin Feminin' certainly is not short of ideas. It just didn't engage as much as Godard's classics of the era; the likes of 'Pierrot le Fou' and 'Le Mepris. 3.5/5

1 comment:

Muratos said...

I think Pierrot le fou is far better than this one.