A Woman Is a Woman

83 minutes

Jean-Luc Godard’s third feature is another exquisitely subversive variation on classic cinema typical of France’s early-sixties nouvelle vague — this time inspired by Hollywood musicals, although the film is neither a full-fledged comedy (although very funny) nor a proper musical (though there is music everywhere). Describing Une Femme est une femme at the time as the “idea of a musical”, mr. Godard openly invokes Ernst Lubitsch in its romantic comedy structure of a woman being led astray by her desire to have a child. However, the script was improvised daily on-set, allowing the director, ably supported by his usual cinematographer Raoul Coutard, to move into an astoundingly formalist use of colour and widescreen compositions that invoke Minnelli and Hitchcock as well as prophetically anticipating later experiences by Antonioni.
     The film's visible artificiality (a cabaret act where the musical backing is taken out of the soundtrack every time the singing begins, or the indoor quarrels shot in virtuoso long takes with descriptive subtitles) mirrors its era of possibilities like few others. It exhales joie de vivre and captures the unbearable lightness of traditional musical comedy while simultaneously delivering its clichés in a knowing, sarcastic way.
     The story revolves around stripper Angela (a ravishing Anna Karina, then mrs. Godard-to-be), who teases and taunts her two suitors, sullen husband Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy) and dazzled conman Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo), in order to desperately be impregnated tonight, regardless of which one will be the father. This frothy tale allows mr. Godard to rummage in a bottomless bag of tricks, deconstruct the conventions of romantic comedy as much as it heightens them, decompose the story into a number of setpieces which play with the idea of cinema as a language all its own. A good example is the use of Michel Legrand's score, a traditionally swinging musical-comedy soundtrack that is used in a stop-start fashion to underline the “beats” of the sight gags and aural puns, but also to give the viewer an unwitting masterclass in the building blocks of genre cinema.

Starring Jean-Claude Brialy, Anna Karina, Jean-Paul Belmondo.
     Directed and written by Jean-Luc Godard; produced by Georges de Beauregard, Carlo Ponti; music by Michel Legrand; director of photography (colour by Eastmancolor, Franscope widescreen), Raoul Coutard; production designer, Bernard Evein; costume designer (uncredited), Jacqueline Moreau; film editor, Agnès Guillemot.
     A Georges de Beauregard—Carlo Ponti presentation of a Rome Paris Film/Euro International Film production. (Original French distributor, Unidex. World sales, Studiocanal.)
     Screened: DVD, Lisbon, June 12th 2011. 


Popular Posts