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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
even through its moments of experimentation it's a fun, fully intriguing Godard flick
I saw Masculin Feminin in a class last year and like with most of Jean-Luc Godard's films I was taken aback by how much the film doesn't stick to anything expected for the audience. This is Godard at the peak of his powers as a director for what has become a line associated forever with Godard- the Marx and Coca-Cola generation of people (or, those born in the 1940's). Like My Life to Live, the film is broken up into specific acts, but this time it isn't as discernible and even plays on when a new segment should start or end (sometimes it changes quite quickly). And the spontaneous feel that goes with many of the better Godard films is in full swing here, as Godard (according to the interviews on the DVD) sometimes just feeds the actors lines, or just questions to get true, if more documentary-like, answers from the actor(s). It's really one of the best films from the period that made Godard known all over the world; anyone seeing his later, more obscured semantic essay films need only to see a film like this or Band of Outsiders to see the filmmaker dealing with real characters and convincing dialog.
Jean-Pierre Leaud is actually just as good here as he is in the 400 Blows, only in a slightly different way. The youth of this actor is still ever present, but here it's changed to be a little more of a radical guy. The uncertainty of the character of Paul, his interest in the opposite sex, and having an intelligent but aimless walk of life, is very in tune with the other Truffaut creation. He becomes, along with his co-stars (like the young, beautiful Chantal Goya as Madeline and Marlene Jobert as Elisabeth), if not really a direct representation of all the French youth at the time, something of a reflection of youth is like in general is present. These characters don't know what they want for their lives, but they do know that things like sex, rock and roll, protesting the oppression of governments, and keeping an interest in parts of life are what make up their day-to-day existences. What might seem very casual styling in following these characters, particularly Paul, is a bit more calculated than expected. Everything that unfolds goes from being very funny to philosophical to fly-on-the-wall to even the poetic. That the cinematography and visual style is more often than not exciting in where the camera may move or not, or where the length of the shot will hold.
Individual moments make up some of the best that Godard's ever received, and from actors who being caught off-guard is not a negative. I loved the dialog between Paul and Madeline early in the film, as simple questions have some deeper contexts. Or when Paul is just walking along, a rock song starts, and a guy whips out a knife only to something very unexpected with a great, ironic payoff. Or the movie within the movie, a parody on Bergman's The Silence that isn't disrespectful and at the same time captures a cool attitude that these characters are looking at even if it's a bit above their own sexual attitude. But most striking both times I watched the film, even in its sort of un-reality and very 'movie' kind of way is when Madeline says a very poetic bit of wording in bed in the dark. Even in the moments when Godard's off-kilter filming isn't as appealing as in other points, as one who is apart of this age group the characters are in, I got enveloped in their loose, tragic-comic conversations and observations (not as preachy or didactic as in other works of the filmmaker). The ending, too, is perfectly shocking and puts a fine dramatic cap on what is really a bittersweet view of these people. And along with getting these characters right, this time and place, the places and people they encounter (little poetic notes of their own, as on the subway or in the coffee shops) add to its overall effect. One of the best films of 1966.
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