CinémaTuesdays: MASCULIN FÉMININ (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)
French Institute Alliance Française, Tinker Auditorium
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, December 4, $10, 7:00
In a 1966 interview with Pierre Daix about Masculin feminin, director Jean-Luc Godard said, “When I made this film, I didn’t have the least idea of what I wanted.” Initially to be based on the Guy de Maupassant short stories “The Signal” and “Paul’s Mistress,” the film ended up being a revolutionary examination of the emerging youth culture in France, which Godard identifies as “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola.” Godard threw away the script and worked on the fly to make the film, which stars Jean-Pierre Léaud as Paul, a peculiar young man who quickly becomes obsessed with budding pop star Madeleine, played by real-life Yé-yé singer Chantal Goya. (Godard discovered her on a television variety show.) Paul chases Madeleine, getting a job at the same company, going to the movies and nightclubs with her and her friends, and meeting her in cafés, where he wants to talk about the troubles of contemporary society and she just wants to have a good time. “Man’s conscience doesn’t determine his existence. His social being determines his conscience,” Paul proclaims. He continually argues that there is nothing going on even as strange events occur around him to which he is completely oblivious, including a lover’s spat in which a woman guns down a man in broad daylight. (Sounds of rapid-fire bullets can be heard over the intertitles for each of the film’s fifteen faits précis, evoking a sense of impending doom.) Paul has bizarre conversations with his best friend, Robert (Michel Debord), a radical who asks him to help put up anarchist posters. Posing as a journalist, Paul brutally interviews Miss 19 (Elsa Leroy), a young model with a very different view of society and politics. Godard has also included a playful battle of the sexes in the center of it all: Paul wants Madeleine, much to the consternation of Madeleine’s roommate, Elisabeth (Marlène Jobert), who also has designs on her; meanwhile, Robert goes out with another of Madeleine’s friends, the more grounded Catherine (Catherine-Isabelle Duport), who is interested in Paul. It all makes for great fun, taking place in a surreal black-and-white world dominated by rampant consumerism. In addition, Godard comments on the state of cinema itself. As they watch a Bergman-esque Swedish erotic film (directed by Godard and starring Eva-Britt Strandberg and Birger Malmsten), Paul dashes off to the projectionist, arguing that the aspect ratio is wrong. And in a café scene, French starlet Brigitte Bardot and theater director Antoine Bourseiller sit in a booth, playing themselves as they go over a script, bringing together the real and the imaginary. “I no longer have any idea where I am from the point of view of cinema,” Godard told Daix. “I am in search of cinema. It seems to me that I have lost it.” Well, he apparently found it again with the seminal Masculin feminin, which kicks off FIAF’s December CinémaTuesdays series “Brigitte Bardot, Femme Fatale” and also includes Roger Vadim’s . . . And God Created Woman and Godard’s Contempt on December 11 and René Clair’s The Grand Maneuver on December 18.