Title: Masculin Féminin
Country: France, Sweden
Language: French, Swedish
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Guy de Maupassant
Music: Willy Kurant
Cinematography: Jean-Jacques Debout
My fourth Godard’s film (CONTEMPT 1963, BREATHLESS 1960, and PIERROT LE FOU 1965) so far, thus apparently I am not a newbie in Godard school, but to see the defiant Jean-Pierre Léaud (Francois Truffaut’s alter ego in THE 400 BLOWS 1959) has grown into a handsome young man, a boy-becomes-man leap from Antoine Doinel to Paul, with sharp stare, worldly-wise sophistication (a wonderful whistler and vocalist too), in a Godard’s picture, which strikes as a sublime force of naturalistic liaison between La Nouvelle Vague auteurs.
Quoted by its most famous intertitle: the film could be called The Children of Marx and Coca Cola, it is an acute assessment of the young generation in Paris at 1960s, through Paul’s relationship with his singer girlfriend Madeliene (Goya), her roommate Elisabeth (Jobert), and another lady friend Catherine-Isabelle (Duport), a girl whom Robert (Debord), Paul’s friend, is courting. The narrative is chronic but haphazard, there are chockablock cultural and political references (Brigitte Bardot, Vietnam war, communism etc.) and cinéma-vérité interviews (including a lengthy one with Elsa Leroy, the first winner of France’s Miss Seventeen), an apolitical malady seems to prevail among those young hipsters.
Paul is an overt idealist, in this adult-absent filmic essay, he is the witness and the victim of the encroaching globalisation, Léaud possesses a spontaneous flexibility to act without affected veneer, every scene is rehearsed beforehand, but his delivery sparkles with authenticity, fierceness and bluntness, which is a gift rather than talent. Goya and Duport manifest two sides of one mirror, the ideal girl image, one is a sweetheart-type while the other is more demure and non-threatening, with the sine qua non that both should be beautiful.
Encompassing 15 acts, MASCULIN FEMININ is quintessential Godard, a solid contemplation on its time’s zeitgeist, in some way his subjective initiative is less radical and idiosyncratic than his iconic BREATHLESS, however, it is a stroke of genius from a cinematic torchbearer in his zenith, from a viewing experience in 2014, half a century later, it is still highly avant garde under its unadorned aesthetic doctrine.