I discovered this charming youthful world of the French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Leaud, a familiar face as the sullen romantic Antoine Doniel in {link: Truffaut’s filmepisodes}, amidst those fragments of conversations I enjoy with Barb, a film connoisseur. And I, at times, walk down the street to stare at the refreshed list of critically acclaimed works, class-acts by thought-leaders as displayed on the glass windows at Alok , just to feel the thrill in the air of having stumbled upon one more new found. 



{link :Masculin féminin},

is a film about the things that young people say and do …the romance between Paul {Jean-Pierre Leaud} – a half baked intellectual who is flirting with the romance of socialism & who pays close attention to the Vietnam war and an aspiring young pop singer Madeleine (Chantal Goya}, a disillusioned quasi-intellectual, who the film declares as “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola”. It captures the conflict between the era’s political upheavals and the natural sexual exploration of the youth…I could still recall this simple scene at the cafe when Jean-Pierre Leaud (Paul) repeats the act or a harmless prank pulled off by his friend on the lady at the other table a moment ago, i.e. walked over to her to touch her breasts, with no introduction, but on the pretext of borrowing a sugar cube from her. It’s completely a different world as enjoyed by younger people, a world that has no clear-cut objectives, but is characterized by repeat acts of certain situations that promise “maximization of sheer a delight”, until  the novelty of the experience loses its flavor. In Godard’s words, “it is a film between one reflection and another. There are times when you do not necessarily need a baby, but it so happens you have one anyway. It’s there, it exists. it would perhaps be better if it had come along at some other time, but when it’s there, you dress it in whatever’s at hand..”  




This film captures, very beautifully, the tussle between “the spirit of freedom and spontaneity as brought in by youthful energy” and “the ever-increasing need to participate in certain political developments, ideologies around the world”, through conversations exchanged between youngsters hanging around in Parisian cafes. It, also, depicts the sense of discomfort within the younger generation caught stranded between the “no-longer-workable” moral values of their previous generation & their country, the winds of change flowing across from a much freer-world called America (the America influence!), their willingness to consume global youth culture, and the ever-growing need to rearrange themselves in a more modern set-up to appreciate one’s sexual needs. While being at this, it does manage to grasp hold of a youngster’s realization of a much-murkier adult’s life and its varied intricacies [look at the scene when Paul {Leaud} and his girl friend Madeleine {Chantal Goya} move across various coffee tables in a cafe, within a few moments, feeling so uncomfortable as they are hit by bits and pieces of conversations between adults], and heartbreaking solitude {”everyone is unable to live alone”} caught on the run, amidst one’s chaotic social life.



Adrian Martin, a noted film critic writes “Godard’s  Masculin feminin comes from its double focus: the sense that Godard is watching his characters from a great distance and judging them is counter pointed by a secret empathy, a fleeting tenderness”. The Masculine feminine divide strikes at the viewer relentlessly – boys talk politics, paint slogans, witness arguments, try to see the girls getting undressed from the running trains, secretly desire to settle down in life with a job and a girl. While girls play with their hair, paint their lips, follow the latest fashions, and enjoy a freshly acquired individualistic streak – courtesy the wave of pop culture consumption. A closer view of a completely different world, the French youth lives in – their habits, choices, struggles within personal relationships, in Cafes: ordinary bistros with a jukebox in the corner, benches, a bar and streets, which runs in sharp contrast with a rather fluid milieu or philosophy portrayed as graffiti on the walls. 

He further writes, “Godard presented Masculin feminin as an act of reportage, an almost ethnographic account of the social climate in the period leading up to the presidential elections of 1965. His reference points were two films that helped build a bridge from old-fashioned, supposedly objective documentary to the more subjective and experimental form of cinematic essay : Chronicle of a Summer (1961) by Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin and Chris Marker’s Le joli mai (1963). This is why Masculin feminin, like Godard’s earlier A Married Woman (1964) contains so much rich and amusing detail about fashions, fads, pop music, and international political events in the newspapers (especially Vietnam). But it was particularly as a report on the “situation of French Youth” that the film was received. 



– the interview with an unidentified “Miss 19″  – where Godard drops the dialogue pretext altogether (instead, he suddenly gives Paul a job as a sociologist investigator) and, in a long and painful sequence-shot, grills this poor girl on every pressing real-world subject she knows next to nothing about. Godard was here pioneering experiments on the uncertain border between documentary and fiction, of a kind that Abbas Kiarostami would take further a quarter of a century later. The film primarily is a chronicle of the 60s, however, obscuresthe film’s achievement, both as a work of art and as a personal testament. Aesthetically, Masculin feminin can easily seem like one of Godards more casual efforts : a collection of fragments, notes, improvisations. Looked at closely, it cohere into a tight pattern that is surprisingly classical and balanced. He plays fast and loose with the on-screen numbering of the “fifteen precise facts” of the story, the film nonetheless scrupulously alternates extended “tableau” scenes with transitional flurries (street views accompanied by multiple voice-overs), and the intimate personal story (the private) with explosive intrusions of violence (the public).


Related posts on Godard on my blog :Godard’s Vivre sa Vie, Godard’s Postcard to Truffaut