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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
Shouldn't work, but thanks to its dedicated portrayal of the motivations and thoughts of the sixties French adolescents and young adults, it does
Masculin Féminin has been called one of Godard's most challenging films by critics and scholars alike. However, having seen both Film Socialisme and La Chinoise, I think this one isn't nearly his worst in terms of extractable ideas and themes. It's ambiguous, often difficult to watch and grasp, and very disjointed, yet it is also one of the best presentations of pop art, pop culture, and time-specific culture I have yet to see. It's Easy Rider and Two-Lane Blacktop for the 1960's France.
The aforementioned criticisms of Masculin Féminin are to be expected with a Godard film; he is a man not easily defined and one who defies all narrow stereotypes of filmmakers and free-thinkers. He is a man who had the unbelievable audacity to go against popular French cinematic customs during the tumultuous times of 1960's, making films that defied convention, critiqued western culture, and valued experimentation over traditionalist practices. Consistently, with the lone exceptions probably being Pierrot Le Fou and Weekend Godard's films are usually more fun to contemplate, analyze, write about, and discuss than they are to watch. They're meals and things you don't appreciate until they're over and done with even though one doesn't necessarily want to revisit it any time soon; watch two in an evening, especially his political works, and I fear for your mental wellbeing.
Masculin Féminin centers around Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a young France idealist who falls in love with a pop star named Madeleine (Chantal Goya), completely ignoring their polar opposite views of the world, music, politics, etc. Paul and Madeline, among Madeline's close circle of friends, begin having intimate and inspirational conversations about those topics, often reciting poetry or reading political text in order to communicate their point. In the meantime, Godard structures the film like he so often does, with quick-cuts and interjecting title cards bearing often disconnected and unclear text that we, the audience member, have to try to connect to the film in some way.
One of the Godard's most famous title cards appears in this picture, around the third act of the film, and reads, "This film could be called The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola." Here, Godard seems to be stating that the characters we center on in this film, and perhaps he himself, a "Marxist intellectual," are only impacted by two budding forces of the time; they are Marxism, the political ideology coined by the teachings of Karl Marx that addresses issues of class struggle and conflict between people of differing socioeconomic lifestyles by critiquing capitalism and emphasizing a more communistic approach to governing, and Coca-Cola, the globally-recognized soft drink brand that could easily be dubbed a corporate empire. Now, I think the generation today could be called "The Children of Income Inequality and Apple."
Another great quote that pops in the film, this time it's uttered aloud, is stated by Paul when he is discussing the roles of a philosopher and a filmmaker. He states very simply, "a philosopher and filmmaker share an outlook on life that embodies a generation." I like this quote almost as much as the above quote because this one compares two ostensibly different people and makes them come together in hopes that people see they achieve the same goal. This could also come full circle to reference Godard himself, as Godard is very much a Marxist philosopher and thinker as well as a radical, experimental filmmaker, and he damn-sure embodies the mindset and opinions of the sixties French students and young-adults.
With that, Masculin Féminin is a dialog-heavy film where the dialog can be increasingly alienating and very often dry and unappealing. Background knowledge of the French New Wave movement, mild understanding of Marxism, as well as a high tolerance for complex political readings is almost essential here. In theory, the film shouldn't work - it's far too disjointed, punctuated by interjecting title cards that still do little other than muddle the narrative, and has little character development outside of rather basic descriptions. However, scarcely has a film been this more focused and successful at developing the motivations and thoughts of a specific generation.
Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud and Chantal Goya. Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.
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