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Paul is young, just demobbed from national service in the French Army, and dishillusioned with civilian life. As his girlfriend builds herself a career as a pop singer, Paul becomes more isolated from his friends and peers ('the children of Marx and Coca Cola', as the credits announce) and their social and emotional politics. Written by
An ironic examination into the youth of 60's Paris, captured in Godard's typically subversive approach
ACTION: In many respects, Masculin / Féminin (1966) is a precursor to Godard's subsequent film, the radical and highly satirical La Chinoise (1967), with the spirit of political unrest, reaction and revolution suggested through a series of random and disconnected acts of violence that are contrasted throughout by a series of dialogues and discussions on the nature of everything from music and movies, to the battle of the sexes. It came from a period in Godard's career when he was moving further away from the ironic referentialism and playful subversion of American genre conventions that had featured so heavily in his earlier and more iconic works - from establishing films such as À bout de soufflé (1960) and Une Femme est une femme (1961) - and more towards the deconstructive, essay-based cinema of reaction that would follow on from the creative year-zero of the difficult masterpiece, Week End (1967). As ever, it is a film about ideas and a satirical look into the notion of "youth" within the context of mid 1960's Paris - with the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the characters cast against a backdrop of Dylan and The Beatles and the war in Vietnam - presented in such as a way as to question the integrity of this generation, without ever drawing any obvious conclusions.
REVOLUTION: In the hands of any other filmmaker, Masculin / Féminin could have easily descended into your average, run of the mill, teenage love story; focusing on two characters from the opposite ends of the social spectrum, thrown together in a courtship that is continually threatened by a number of external concerns, from political differences, career ambitions, jealousies and social divergence, and all devised within the environment of swinging 60's Paris, again, post-Beatles/post-Dylan. Nevertheless, the ever iconoclastic Godard does deliver these elements, but in his typically subversive approach, in which every element becomes a comment on the ideas and interpretations behind it. ...THE CHILDREN OF MARX AND COCA COLA: Even the subtitle of the film - which doesn't appear until right towards the very end - is a perfect summation of Godard's approach here; with his comment on the contemporary youth of 60's France being both celebratory, but also critical; in the way that he renders these characters as buffoons that spout and pontificate - as characters in Godard's films often do - to illustrate that behind the ideas and the ambitions there's an emptiness that is simply cosmetic.
VÉRITÉ: As with Godard's 1967 trilogy - comprising of the aforementioned La Chinoise, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and Week End
Masculin / Féminin invites us to spend time with these characters, to
think about the things they say and do, and then to cast judgement on them. Once again, I think the problem that many people have with this film, and with many of Godard's work in particular, is that they assume the director is sympathising with his characters; presenting them as people that we should care about or identify with, when in actuality he seems to be showing them up as the fools that they clearly are. Again, recalling the presentation of Guillaume in La Chinoise, young actor Jean-Pierre Léaud portrays Paul as a likable enough young man, though one whose pretence of political action and Marxist belief is eventually revealed to be nothing more than pseudo-intellectual pontification and playful theatricality. Unlike his more motivated friend Robert, Paul is simply playing at political activism like he plays at being a lover; throwing out carefully rehearsed slogans and ruminating on segregation and Vietnam, while his true thoughts and feelings are wrapped up in idealised notions of marriage and romantic fulfilment, represented as sex.
POLITICAL FILM: You could perhaps argue that it isn't one of Godard's clearest of socio-political statements; with the film often going around in circles, suggesting questions that are never answered - or giving answers to questions that were never asked - as the director continually conspires to satirise and critique his subjects in a manner that goes against the usual preconceived conventions of narrative based cinema. DEFIANCE: If you're familiar with Godard then you'll expect such presentation, though even then, the end of the film, which wraps things up with a cruel joke, might seem contrary to the point of flippancy by many viewers who have taken the time to view the film and invest some thought into Godard's uncompromising ruminations. However, it's completely typical of the director to end his film in such a way; mocking his characters as shallow chancers ready to shrug off any situation, no matter how horrific, while never once leading the audience in their opinions. As the film ends, we're allowed to think about the actions that these characters have taken throughout the film, and make up our own mind as to whether or not these are negative attributes, or positive ones.
CINEMA: The presentation is familiar, with Godard shooting in low-quality black and white, with the early new wave reliance on disarming jump-cuts and Godard's continual interest in ironic inter-titles still used throughout. The camera is mostly stationary, or we have Godard using the tracking shots that his colour films were famous for; while a number of scenes are presented with documentary-like elements in the way that characters address the camera or are framed in order to undercut the action ironically. The machine-gun sound effects that punctuate the inter-titles would be used again in the more entertaining Made in USA (1966), while there's that similar feeling of rehearsed spontaneity familiar from all Godard's 60's films, giving us the impression of improvisation, when we now know how carefully planned the project actually was. GOD(AR'): If you're already an admirer of Godard's cinema then Masculin / Féminin is an essential, if not entirely successful work, from his most interesting cinematic period; even although it could be argued that it lacks the finesse or ingenuity of his more iconic films, it is still worthy of experiencing.
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