Friday, October 2, 2015
Masculin Féminin (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)
In an intertitle during the film, Godard suggested that his portrait of French (or anyway Parisian) youth in the mid-1960s "could be called The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola." But the movie kept reminding me of Lena Dunham's portrait of American youth in the early 2010s, the TV series Girls, which might be called "The Children of Milton Friedman and Xanax." Godard's young Parisians find themselves in a time bursting with revolutionary energy but no particular channel in which to direct it other than sex and pop culture. The political activity of Godard's protagonist, Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud), largely consists of pranks: distracting the driver of a parked military staff car so an accomplice can write an anti-war slogan along its side, and ordering a staff car on the phone under the guise of "General Doinel" -- a cheeky allusion to the role of Antoine Doinel, which Léaud played in The 400 Blows (1959) and four other films directed by François Truffaut. But most of the young people in the film are as shy of committing themselves to anything political or social as the beauty queen called "Mlle 19" (Elsa Leroy) whom Paul interviews at some length in one of the film's more spot-on satirical moments. This is a movie of fits and starts: moments of great energy interrupted by stretches of talk. As usual, Godard plays with viewers' expectations throughout, staging a sequence near the beginning in which a woman guns down her husband, only to ignore any follow-up action, and having a political protester immolate himself off-screen with only the somewhat indifferent reports of Paul and his girlfriend, Madeleine (Chantal Goya), as reactions to the event. The soundtrack is spiced with what sound like gunshots but turn out to be only billiard balls clashing against each other in a neighboring room. Some people dislike Godard because of his uncompromising resistance to conventional story-telling and scene-framing, and there is some rather self-conscious "movieness" about Masculin Féminin, as when the characters go to a film within the film and Paul has to make a special trip to the projection booth to complain that it's being shown in the wrong aspect ratio. But on the whole I find Godard's movies provide a necessary tonic against complacency.