Welcome to Godard 101, an unofficial and unaffiliated online undergraduate seminar where Ben and I take on the great man and his works, doing our best to understand how Jean-Luc got from there to here. First up, Ben and I took a look at Breathless, the film that, along with Francois Truffault's 400 Blows, blew the roof off the joint back in 1960, kicking off the Nouvelle Vague and recreating cinema. Pretty heady shit. Then, we reviewed A Woman is a Woman, which you can find here. This was followed with an examination ofTo Live Her Life, Contempt, The Little Soldier and Band of Outsiders. Most recently, we looked at Alphaville and I did a solo turn with A Married Woman and The Riflemen. Ben then returned, and we took a look at Pierre le Fou, and now finally have something to argue about, as we offer up our conflicting thoughts on...
Masculin Feminin (France, 1966, Godard)
Masculin Feminin (France, 1966, Godard)
The problem with reviewing an intellectual like Godard (is there another intellectual "like Godard?") is that he beats you to the presses when it comes time for a tag line. For Masculine, Feminine, he himself says of it during it - in the form of an intertitle, no less: "This film could be called the children of Marx and Coca-Cola." Yup.
From my point of you, what is interesting about this is that the director seems to be a tad stroppy about the children's prioritization of Coca-Cola over Marx. This is to say thatMasculine, Feminine is the first film in which Godard deals directly with ideological stances in relation to the US campaign in Vietnam, the current political reputation of the French Communist Party, the continuing presence of de Gaulle and so on. He also focuses pointedly at the incipient sexual revolution, especially as it was being facilitated by the new technologies of contraception. There is even a bit with two men making out in a bathroom stall. Would have raised more than an eyebrow in '66.
I wish I could say that all of this rich sociology makes for a facinating movie, but I must announce that Masculine, Feminine looks to me to be the first time Godard is treading water. I do not doubt that in it's own day, it was a telling snapshot of the state of the republic from the perspective of the younger set. Wiki informs me that it was banned for persons under 18 in France, which rankled Godard no end because that was exactly his target audience for the film. It shows. Watching it today, as a 50 year-old fat fart, I couldn't help feel that it was sorta like an episode of Friends, if you know what I mean.
Be this as it may, Masculine, Feminine has really helped with respect to my tracking of Godard's depictions of violence. There is very little of it, but what there is has improved verismillitude. That it is shown in the context of a movie-within-a-movie is neither here nor there at this stage of GODARD 101. What is significant, however, is that it is presented in connection with sexual conduct. Obviously, the mixture of hostility and eroticism is meant by Godard to be problematic, but what I realized is that this is the first time he has shown some actual sexual activity beyond a few kisses thrown into the conversation.
While I think my original speculation is beginning to pan out that Godard's treatment of violence is growing increasingly realistic as he becomes more overtly politicized, I now notice with a more Freudian eye that for all his attention to interpersonal heterosexual relationships and dialogue about true love spoken by lovers who fail to be true - where's the sex? There has been some suggestion of it from time to time, in rude language and morning-after shots. And yes, he has to deal with the same censorship by the distributors as the next film-maker. But even so. Things never even get lubricated, eh? Perhaps the handling of violence is as awkward and bothersome as it is because of the continuum between violence and eroticism in the first place, that murky pit wherein the excessively intellectual Godard is not artistically at home.
And speaking of sexuality, and remembering my promise to stay in touch with a feminist sensibility throughout GODARD 101, the portayal of women in Masculine, Feminine is pretty despicable. It was darn crappy in a Woman is a Woman, but this could be forgiven insofar as it was so cadidly parodic of the cliche sexism attending the genre being twiddled. Besides, even if Godard does offend the Sisterhood with that movie, To Live Her Life the next year does outstanding damage control; like I said in my review before, the female existential protagonist is given her dignity, neither to blame nor a victim. In Masculine, Feminine though, well, the chicks are basically bimbos. It's irritating, to put it mildly.
In fact, the whole film is rather irritating. Again, I concede that it has the merit of an almost documentary record of the Parisian scene for post-highschool/not-in-
university types at that point in history. But it's a lot of talking heads with no story to speak of and just as little to look at cinematographically. Kind of a relief, to tell the truth. Guy was switching it up so fast and furious, my head was starting to swim. Or should I simply say that after Alphaville - a small masterpiece that can still send a shiver down my back today -Masculine, Feminine has not aged well?
You are so right. And so wrong.
You are so right that we are finally chewing the meat of the matter with regard to the protagonist. You dig him a fair bit whereas I figure he's mostly a wanker. Clearly, this is behind you liking the film more than I do. In your review you describe the character as "usually appealing but sometimes off-putting." It would appear that I found him sometimes appealing but usually off-putting.
But you are so wrong if you think this is all the meat that matters. I continue to focus also on the women - "meat" indeed in the movie - and I continue to insist that our identification with the protagonist must be restricted by our criticism of the sexism conditioning the film as a whole. In your review you state that "the film's gender politics are reactionary." Yet you keep on partitioning this off from the rest of the film. But come on. It's called Masculine, Feminine, right? I cannot say whether the male chauvinism in the movie is or is not a "fatal flaw," unlike you, who announce that it is not. All I will say (again) is that it "makes Masculine, Feminine a wanna-be political statement that fails to materialize in the radical direction Godard tries to point it."
And since I'm taking you to task on this topic, you go so far as to say that "Godard's misogyny [is] an ongoing concern." There is a difference - which I trust you will agree is significant - between the degrading treatment of women as inferior and the abusive hatred of women as the sexual Other. On behalf of myself and Godard too, the ongoing feminist concern I am bringing to his films is about the former, which I sometimes see in his work, and not the latter, which I never see at all.
P.S. I realize that this is not meaty, but having travelled from the self-stabbing scene to your suggestion that it foreshadows the death of the protagonist as a possible suicide, I still wonder about the latter and ask you to wonder with me. Like I said before, I didn't notice that he was in so much pain, eh? Did he at any time strike you as even potentially suicidal? I suspect not, considering it was you who introduced the description of his death as "incomprehensible," and rightly so.