by Allan Fish
concluding the small series on Godard…
(France/Sweden 1966 110m) DVD2
Give us this day TV and car but deliver us from freedom
p Philippe Dussart d/w Jean-Luc Godard novel “La Femme du Paul” by Guy de Maupassant ph Willy Kurant ed Agnès Guillemot m Francis Lai (and W.A.Mozart)
Jean-Pierre Léaud (Paul), Chantal Goya (Madeleine Zimmer), Catherine-Isabelle Duport (Catherine-Isabelle), Marlène Jobert (Elisabeth Choquet), Michel Debord (Robert Packard), Birger Malmsten (Him, in film), Maj-Britt Strandberg (she, in film), Brigitte Bardot (girl in café), Françoise Hardy, Henri Attal, Dominique Zardi,
It’s amazing the random thoughts that pop into your head as you prepare to type one of these pieces. Take now, where I have just watched Godard’s pop culture film as my third film of the day. The first two were by Bergman – All These Women and The Hour of the Wolf. One might see no immediate connection, but then one recalls that Masculin Feminin was shot in Sweden; Sandrews and Svenskfilmindustri co-financed it. With that, the similarities end, for Bergman and Godard could not have been more diametrically opposed in their outlook on the cinema. Bergman’s biggest preoccupation was with the human condition, its loves, its hates, its fears, its joys, sanity and otherwise, religion and atheism. Godard was an anti-humanist, for whom individuals were no more important than Subutteo figures, weighed down not as if in a bowl of cement ready to be thrown into the waters of the deep by some mobster, but by the weight of political and social discourse, and of being part of the youthful Coca Cola generation of the mid-sixties.
This was a crucial film for Godard, for it marked the start of his rejection of conventional cinematic narrative. Give or take the odd startling work, it was also the beginning of where I as film buff part the ways from him. There’s a basic plot about a young man, Paul, just out of national service, attracted to Madeleine, a would-be singer. There are others, friends, boys and girls, but that’s basically it. And within minutes we’re detached from reality by the shooting of her child’s father by an aggrieved young woman. Later a thug stabs himself with his own knife. Only in a Godard movie, but then again, the notion of “is this a movie” is a coin to be flipped. If a film has no connection to reality and makes a point of saying so, then why should anything said in it be taken seriously, as one surely needs the terra firma of reality for serious discourse to take place? In its way then it’s as perfect a representation, like the contemporary The Chelsea Girls and I am Curious… of this era of “James Bond and Vietnam.” Dialogue designed to be hip and relevant and intellectual comes off as trite, and yet it now seems prophetic of a society, and what Godard would call a working class, so obsessed with the vacuum of television soap operas and talent shows. And with sex, of course, so that as two girls leave Paul, another comes up to him and offers to let him take pictures in a phone booth. “It’s 15,000FF to see my breasts…I only have 10,000…okay, but no touching.”
So we have Masculin Feminin, the cinematic representation of a modern art which can call Tracey Emin’s unmade bed art. Look at what it says about society; the slippers, ashtrays, used Kleenex (real masturbation art), and the back-flipping toy dog. They themselves may not be in Godard’s film, but the soul of the piece is here in spades, an embracing of the void, exemplified in Paul’s opening speech when he says “even relative freedom is difficult to achieve in the face of established authority when he’s had the wrong education.” It’s a film I should and often do loathe, but one is hypnotised as one might be by seeing a murder take place in the middle of a crowded street, or a couple making out against a wall without a care in the world to passers by. We should walk out, but we can’t, we’re hooked, for this is cinema as sounding board, as soap box, as brainstorm, as agent provocateur to both challenge convention and the audience. We may not like it, indeed it’s very hard to like, but just you dare ignore it, if only because intellectuals will shoot you down as a cinematic peasant. Bergman wouldn’t bow down, though, and said about Godard; “Godard is a fucking bore. He’s made his films for the critics. One of the movies, Masculin féminin, was shot here in Sweden. It was mind-numbingly boring.” Judge for yourself.