It’s 1966, and Jean Luc-Godard has just released Pierrot Le Fou, which for my money was his last true masterpiece. He comes close a couple more times, but that initial spark is starting to fade. His marriage to his muse, Anna Karina, was over and he has hooked up with an even younger lover Anne Wiazemsky. She who would become wife no. 2, but it was never the same. Masculin Féminin is the film that arrives at this point of transition into the filmmaker Godard would become: he isn’t a full-fledged Maoist yet, but it’s starting to creep in; at the same time, the youthful and playful energy of that run from ’60 to May ’68 is still on show.
Jean-Pierre Léaud appears in his first lead for Godard (he had cameos in Pierrot Le
Fou and Alphaville) as Paul, an idealistic young communist who meets a young woman,
Madeleine Zimmer (Chantel Goya). Madeleine is a Yé-yé singer who is about to release her
first single. Paul is a loser of epic proportions: he is almost a proto-incel. He treats all the
women in his life like total shit. But Godard does that to—they are portrayed as totally vain and clueless about what is going on politically. It’s a film about the differences between the sexes but also between the generations. Paul is clearly Godard, who would rather listen to Bach than whatever the hip new record of the week is, whether it’s Bob Dylan, The Beatles or France Gall, and he gets teased mercilessly by Madeleine’s roommates.
What the film is very good at is providing a snapshot of the youth milieu in a pre-‘68 Paris. Chandel Goya, who never worked with Godard again and only made sporadic film
appearances afterwards, must’ve have seen an ideal replacement for Anna Karina. They even
had the same often-copied black bob haircut, and she is super charming and wonderful.
Léaud is very good at portraying this young guy who believes all his thoughts are super
profound and that he is super-right on, when he really isn’t. Is it a condemnation of this type
of young man, or a celebration? You never know with Godard, and there will be people who can make compelling cases for both sides.
It’s certainly not the best entry point for Godard—Bande à Part, Alphaville or Breathless
would be—but it’s a good melding of his playful and political side. After all, this is the film with the intertitle “The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola,” which sums up the film, and to some extent Godard himself (but maybe swap Coke with Nicolas Ray, though). The film, however, boasts the most accurate date of a cineaste and his girlfriend when Paul is whinging about the aspect ratio and Madeleine and is like “so,” and then he runs up to the projection booth to complain to the projectionist. I may not have gone as far as the projection booth, but I can’t deny the rest of it. It’s also the best scene in the movie. The songs in the film are really good, too, and Brigitte Bardot and Françoise Hardy have fun cameos.
The disc boosts a more recent 4K restoration, but all the extras and the booklet are ports from the 2005 Criterion Collection DVD, which was only available in the US. They include an interview from 1966 with Chantal Goya; interviews from 2004 and 2005 with Goya, Kurant, and Jean-Luc Godard collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin; discussion of the film from 2004 between film critics Freddy Buache and Dominique Païni; footage from Swedish television of Godard directing the “film within the film” scene; plus the original theatrical trailer and a Rialto Pictures 2005 re-release trailer. The booklet includes an essay by film critic Adrian Martin and a 1966 report from the set by French journalist Philippe Labro. The disc itself is made to look like an old 45, which fits with Chantal Goya’s character: this also comes from the design of the original DVD.