Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Produced by: Anatole Dauman.
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard, based on stories by Guy de Maupassant.
Director of Photography: Willy Kurant.
Edited by: Agnès Guillemot.
Music by: Jean-Jacques Debout.
Released by: Criterion.
Language: French with English subtitles. Country of Origin: France. 105 min. Not Rated. With: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Chantal Goya, Marlène Jobert, Michel Debord & Catherine-Isabelle Duport.
DVD Features: 1966 interview with actress Chantal Goya. New interviews with Goya, cinematographer Willy Kurant, & collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin. Critical discussion between film scholars Freddy Buache & Dominique Païni. Archival Swedish television interview with Godard. New English subtitle translation. Restored digital transfer. Trailers. Booklet, featuring an essay by film scholar Adrian Martin & an archival interview with Godard by journalist Philippe Labro.

One of my favorite moments from all the interviews included in this edition of Masculin féminin is when film critic Dominique Païni discloses he smoked the same brand of cigarettes and wore similar tweed jackets as this film’s protagonist, Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud), for months after he first saw the film. Ironically, Masculin féminin has become as docilely iconoclastic as the Coke bottles for which Godard had such critical disdain. A film centering on “the Children of Marx and Coca Cola” has ultimately produced children of Godard and cassis, eager to emulate its characters’ counterculture habits and shell out $29.95 for DVDs of Godard’s seminal films. It’s pretty genius.

The film follows Paul, a young disaffected Marxist, and his tenuous relationship to a detached ingénue, Madeleine (Chantal Goya), who is contentedly locked in a culture of magazines and pop songs. As Adrian Martin describes in the DVD’s 16-page booklet, Masculin féminin is much more a “film essay” about the Sartrean violence that goes ignored in our everyday lives than a documentary, drama or an allegorical satire. Which is why the narrative plot is largely unimportant (outside of its symbolism), and the characters are basically loudspeakers for Godard, voicing bitter and often hilarious criticism through their detached stereotypes.

DVD Extras: In the 1966 interview, it’s fascinating to see how similar Goya is to her character - an unaware, compliant ingénue who makes yé-yé pop songs and says her wish is to one day own a shop. What’s so enjoyable is to see that an hour and a half of symbolism and irony involving Godard’s criticism of Goya and the rest of her Pepsi generation could have been reduced to a five-minute interview with her. It’s a point that Goya returns to in her 2005 interview while explaining that her lines were mostly responses to questions Godard asked her through an ear piece. On camera, she would answer as she normally would rather than as a character. It’s a stimulating interview that helps to illuminate Godard’s techniques, with the highlight of the entire DVD being Goya’s reminiscence of once saying angrily to Godard, “The only art I know about is my Cuisinart!”

The interview with cinematographer Willy Kurant is also worthwhile. He knew he was a “one-off mistress” to Godard’s regular cinematographer, Raoul Coutard (his “official wife”). He discusses the choices of lighting, Godard’s canonical switch to Kodak film, and the aspect ratio choice - everything that a Godardphile would want to know. The interview with sometime collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin and the discussion between critics Freddy Buache and Païni are less informative since they largely conjecture on Godard’s legacy. But one of the most difficult aspects to watching Godard today is understanding his films' historical framework. Both of these featurettes help break that barrier by discussing the French New Wave and how Godard fit into that time frame, what was new about the film, how it marked a point within Godard’s own evolution, and, more importantly, how his films were received and why.

Normally, DVD extras like the booklet and the theatrical trailer wouldn’t be significant at all - but Adrian Martin’s essay and the trailer are both so well done that they’re actually worthy of your time. Martin writes about understanding 1965 through Godard as a teenager in the ‘80s, giving another interesting backdrop for the first-time viewer. And watching the trailer - provocative and original in its own right -is like viewing Godard’s visual commentary on his own film. Zachary Jones
September 20, 2005



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