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Godard's gleeful pastiche of Cocteau's Le Bel Indifférent
A fascinating short sketch of a film from director Jean Luc Godard that exists somewhere within the same cinematic universe as his debut picture, À bout de soufflé (1960), whilst simultaneously presenting certain elements that would later reoccur in his first proper masterpiece, Une Femme est une femme (1961). The film is light and frivolous and seems to exist for no other reason than to highlight the natural joie de vivre that film-making can present, with its ironic dialog, broad humour and two incredibly likable performances from Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anne Collette. Belmondo plays a young writer who is visited by his ex-girlfriend, Charlotte, who he thinks has come crawling back to him. As Belmondo attempts to charm, berate, insult and endear himself to Charlotte it becomes clear that she has only come back to collect a few personal items before leaving with her new boyfriend, a filmmaker, in his fancy sports car.
During the encounter, Belmondo speaks incessantly in an almost stream of conscious approach filled with wit, pathos and subtle shading of his character. He teases Charlotte for her current relationship that he feels is doomed to failure, criticises her for coming back to him, and trivialises any warm reminisces in an attempt to fool himself into thinking their relationship meant nothing. As Belmondo pour his heart out and attempts to remain cool, Charlotte stays mostly silent. She thumbs through old magazines, adjusts her hat and her dress in the mirror, teases and mimics Belmondo playfully behind his back and occasionally pipes up to remind him of some important part of his tirade that he can't quite put into words. It's the kind of torturous battle of the sexes thing that Godard would continue to look at in later films, from the aforementioned Une Femme est une femme to Masculin, feminine (1966) and later with Slow Motion (1980). Here, however, it is played lightly and for laughs, with Belmondo's farcical revelations and trivialities being thwarted by the charmingly coy performance from Collette, who lights up the screen like Godard's later heroines Seberg and Karina.
The film is a continual joy to watch, but as ever with Godard, you can easily draw deeper interpretations on the manufactured artificiality of cinema and on the creative act itself. Is it any surprise that one of the earliest shots of Belmondo is of his character loading paper into a typewriter and hashing out a few words? Maybe not. Is this whole sitcom sketch simply a way for Belmondo to wrestle with his feelings in an attempt to pin his emotions to the page for the book that he claims to be writing? It's an interesting idea and one that works within the context of Godard's later interest in meta-textual self-reference, especially with films like Le Mepris (1963) and In Praise of Love (2001). Regardless of such deeper interpretations, Charlotte and her Boyfriend (1960) is a lovely little film from Godard; nicely structured as an affectionate pastiche/answer to Cocteau's Le Bel Indifférent, and perfectly performed by the two lead actors.
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