Saturday, September 6, 2008
Film Ignorance #16: Masculin/Feminin
Rating: Yep, It's a Classic
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Stars: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Chantal Goya, various French people I've never heard of, and Brigitte Bardot for about two seconds
Reason for Ignorance: Thought it was Truffaut
Ignorance Rating: 28 (7 votes)
Jean-Luc Godard viewed himself as more than a filmmaker; he believed he embodied the figure of the poet, the novelist, the painter, and perhaps above all the existential-political philosopher in the tradition of Sartre. You can instantly tell all of these things from his endless references to philosophy, to poetry, to painting. You can also tell, in Masculin/Feminin, when one of the title cards proclaims that the filmmaker and the philosopher have the same role.
Masculin/Feminin is more or less plotless. We see aimless Paul and his rising pop-singer girlfriend Madeline (played by 60s French pop star Chantal Goya) listlessly go through the motions of a relationship, surrounded by a few of Paul's friends and a seemingly endless series of incredibly pretty ex-coworkers of Madeline's. We watch these stylishly dressed hipsters go to bars, go to cafes, go to the cinema, ride the train, and do other, everyday stuff - and it's all, frankly, enrapturing. Because in addition to the pure and simple pleasure we get from watching these beautiful people in a beautiful city, we get to hear them talk.
Paul, Madeline, and their friends talk about everything. The "Masculin" side of the equation seems to be most interested in politics - Paul and his revolutionary friend bemoan de Gaulle, the Vietnamese War, the sad lack of interest in revolutionary politics. The "Feminins" make it quite clear that they don't care about politics, are squeamish about birth control, and prefer fashion and beauty above all things. This doesn't make them look particularly bad; Paul, after all, confronts the projectionist of a theater, passionately ordering him to stop showing a movie in 1.85 aspect ratio because it was decided that anything above 1.75 is excessive, and Godard points out several times that you can't spell "Masculin" without "Cul," which means "ass."
Speaking of: In his typically abrasive style, Godard points many things out to us in title-card asides and pronouncements. The most important one: this movie is about the children of Marx and Coca-Cola. It's about an exciting and turbulent time that was about to give birth to mass protests in both American and France; more to the point, it's about the collision of political values and cultural style, playing across the lives of a bunch of uncertain young people. Along the way, Godard makes his political and philosophical points - a man stabs himself for no reason, another sets himself on fire in a Vietnam protest - but if the film certainly is didactic, it never feels didactic. It feels, instead, like exactly what it is: overwhelmingly natural and free-form, flowing from scene to scene and conversation to conversation with no goal except the capturing of this fragmented moment in the city of Paris.
In the trailer for Masculin/Feminin, Godard tells us: "Minors under the age of 18 not admitted...because it is about them." It seems to me that, to this day, it's about us. If you haven't seen Masculin/Feminin, but you've ever watched a Wes Anderson movie, or read some Sartre or Camus, or tried to look European while smoking a cigarette, or worn a fashionable trenchcoat, I recommend you see it. It's a film about the hipsters of 40 years ago - and they look and talk exactly like the hipsters of 2008. Except, you know, in French.