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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
"Kill one man and you're a murderer. Kill thousands and you're a conqueror. Kill everyone and you're a god." This is one of the many intriguing lines spoken in Jean-Luc Godard's 1966 film "Masculine, Feminine", a French film that examines what Godard calls "The children of Marx & Coca-Cola". Paul (Leaud) is a 21 year-old man who has just completed his mandatory national service in the French army, and, disillusioned with life, finds himself writing in a café. At one café in particular, he meets Madeleine (Goya), a beautiful young woman who is an aspiring pop singer and is able to get Paul a job at the magazine she occasionally works for. Soon after, she (seemingly almost reluctantly) succumbs to Paul's advances and they embark on a relationship. Along the way, they spend time with his friend Robert (Debord) and her two friends/roommates Elisabeth (Jobert) and Catherine (Duport). During their time together, Paul, who is becoming an increasingly vociferous political activist, struggles with Madeleine's apparent apathy and bursts of affection as well as her complete indifference to social and economic issues plaguing France and the world at large.
I had the pleasure of seeing this film tonight at a local theater that shows art and classic films, and the experience was wonderful. I have read about this film for years, but short of catching it in a film class or at a retrospective of Godard's work (which is not very likely in Milwaukee, WI) it was unavailable until now since it has not yet been released on DVD and isn't readily available on VHS. As cliché as it sounds, "Masculine/Feminine" ended up being so incredibly good that it was more than worth the wait. Therefore, I am pretty much breaking one of my regular traditions of letting a film kind of "settle" in my head before writing about it, since it was so thought-provoking and excellent it's like I wanted to prolong the experience.
With raw and grainy black and white cinematography by Willy Kurant, "Masculine, Feminine" at times feels like a documentary, which is perhaps Godard's intended perception. The camera lingers on the young actors, examining their faces as they wax philosophic on everything from Vietnam to birth control to Bob Dylan. While the film is extremely "talky" at certain points, there was not one moment where I was not captivated. Part of this was the unconventional style with which Godard blocked several of the scenes, particularly the scenes between two characters who are discussing various topics to an extent where they are practically interviewing one another. Normally, the camera switches back and forth between the actors, but Godard chooses instead to keep the camera trained on the person who is being asked the questions, perhaps in an effort to gain a more natural reaction. Another interesting component of the film is its various philosophical points about men and women, posted between scenes and accompanied with the sound of a gun shot. Counting down 15 philosophies about relationships and life in general, this (at least I'm assuming for the time) unconventional style of film-making was surely an inspiration for stylish filmmakers of the future, like Danny Boyle, Guy Ritchie and especially Quentin Tarantino.
Leaud, whose most famous role is probably the young Antoine Doinel in Truffaut's "The Four Hundred Blows" may be about 10 years older, but he looks exactly the same. His rumpled, academic look and sincerely intense and intellectual demeanor are intriguing, and his strong emotional self is prevalent and endears the audience to his character; as with "The Four Hundred Blows", I really cared about his character's fate. Goya is also good as the vapid Madeleine, a woman who takes great care in her appearance to make it appear that she doesn't take care. Other than really not having anything philosophical or intellectual to bring to the table, she also is content to steal the interests of those around her, to give her the appearance of depth. (For example, after making fun of Paul for becoming worked up over Bach, she has no problem telling a reporter she encounters toward the end of the film that he is one of her favorites.) The rest of the cast serve as great supports, particularly the semi-deep and fully charming Catherine (Duport).
I mentioned earlier that it was particularly a treat to see this film simply because it is so rare. Apparently, if all goes as planned, the incredibly wonderful Criterion Collection will be releasing this film on DVD September 2005. I personally plan to pick it up when it is released because I feel like I will gather either more information regarding the characters and/or the story or could possibly come up with a completely different perspective. When the film does become available, I would highly recommend "Masculine, Feminine" to art-cinema lovers or anyone who appreciates the French New Wave. And if you have never seen a film of this type, or by Godard himself and are looking for something to get your feet wet, this would be a good one to start with, because it is avant garde without sacrificing a coherent story and tangible characters. Mostly, I would recommend seeing this film with someone who appreciates good cinema, because I regret not having done so myself, I was so in need of discussion immediately after walking out of the theater. 8/10 --Shelly
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