Audio: Sounds of the French New Wave
Jean-Luc Godard Interview
Masculine Feminine - Pierre Daix
Q: Can it be said that Masculine Feminine is a film about youth?
A: No, I don't believe so. It is more a film on the idea of youth. A
philosophical idea, but not a practical one - a way of reacting to
things. A young way, let us say. If people don't react to things the
same way that they do when they're forty, it's simply because when
they're nineteen they're only nineteen and not forty. What I mean is:
it's not a dissertation on youth or even an analysis, even if the film
in some ways is closer to sociology than to the novel. Let's say it
speaks of youth, but it's a piece of music, a "concerto on youth." How
can it be differentiated from an other, since it's all musical notes,
it's music whereas in novels, the words are young, but the meaning will
come from the sign, and I have taken young signs, signs that have not
yet been deformed, that are not printed characters. My signs haven't
already been used a thousand times. It's the first time they've been
used. I can talk about them now, afterward, because when I made this
film, I didn't have the least idea of what I wanted.
Q: Was your point of departure a story by Maupassant?
A: Yes, theoretically; what I started was a story of Maupassant's called
"Paul Mistress." It's the story of a boy who's in love with a girl, and
things don't go well because this girl is in love with another girl. And
in the end things went off course as they always do when I use a "wall"
to hoist myself on. Then I discover something else and I forget the wall
I hired young people. They interested me, so I did tings that had to do
with them. The original plans having to do with them weren't important;
I made them talk. I think it can be said that this film is a survey; but
if so, it is a very advanced survey, in the sense that everything
happens where and when the survey is being conducted. Every time the
young people talk with each other, they are conducting a survey: the boy
is doing opinion research on the girl; even when he is talking about
love, they are conducting surveys all around them. And I make a survey
of them. They themselves are tracking each other down; it's sort of
The Dreamers is released on DVD today. This film was definitely made in the spirit of the French New Wave, and is a wonderful celebration of sex and the cinema. I really felt in touch with the love of film shown by the main characters, primarily because I'm a cinema junkie myself. Although my love of cinema has never lead me to their hedonistic behavior. What a terrible shame that is! I paid 3X to see The Dreamers at the local arthouse theater - a personal record. No doubt I'm purchasing this.
There goes my pocket money...
Masculine Feminine: Selected Film Criticism - Excerpts part 2
Tom Milne, Sight and Sound, Winter 1966-67
Casual and fragmentary as it may seem, Masculine Feminine is in fact probably Godard's most complex film to date. If Paul's odyssey in search of tenderness takes us through what is virtually a collage of la vie moderne at all levels - Bob Dylan as Vietnik and Negro as Black Muslim, the Pill and the Brassiere, Vietnam and the teenage question - it is also a foray into the age-old Sex War.
Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, September 19, 1966
Jean-Luc Godard, a reigning favorite with the New York Film Festival crowd, probably because he is the doggedest of the old new wave cineists in France, had his first wack at the audience of this year's festival last night ... The question is how much momentum Masculine Feminine may have after its saturation showing to a capacity audience last night. For it is another of those peculiarly vague and elusive Godard films of the sort that he seems to be making at the rate of about two or three a year. It gives a pretense of being a study of the mores of Parisian youth as conducted by a fuzzy-brained young fellow who becomes rather personally involved, especially with a fidgety young woman who seems to lead him to be even more confused than he is at the outset about the attitude of French girls towards sex.
"C" Rating: National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, October 20, 1966 ["C" rating means Condemned]
Objections: Because this film is an undisciplined and largely unintelligible survey of what its director conceives to be modern youth's confusion, naturalism of style alone, without point of view or content, can neither support nor justify its vulgar and suggestive treatment.
Andrew Sarris, Village Voice, September 29 and October 6, 1966
Godard can criticized as an artist for pacing and structure. After three viewing I know pretty well what is in Masculine Feminine and where it all fits, but I am still hazy about the minute-by-minute sequencing which I find exasperatingly haphazard. Godard is always evoking the entertainer's without exhibiting the entertainer's vulgar instincts for pleasing change-of-pace pitches to his audience. However, the individual fragments, far from being amateurish as some of the director's detractors claim, are about the most dazzling exercises of style on the screen today. On the level of feeling, Godard's mood toward modernity ranges from bitterness to downright disgust, but he never stops the world to get off. From alter ego Belmondo in Breathless to alter ego Leaud in Masculine Feminine, Godard merely tries to slow down the world so that he can get on.
Masculine Feminine: Selected Film Criticism Excerpts
Georges Sadoul, Les Lettres Francaises, May 5, 1965
When Pierre Daix wrote on this page that "even though there may be howls of protest," Masculine Feminine was "as fine as Le neveu de Rameau [Diderot's novel, Rameau's Nephew]," he placed it in its proper literary category. It is not theater, it is not a novel (like La Religieuse [Memoirs of a Nun]); like Diderot's work, it is much less a "satirical tale" than an essay on the daily problems and manners of our time.
Pierre Billard, L'Express, April 18, 1968
... quite frankly, Masculine Feminine is not the total film we dreamed of. In fact it is hardly a film, in the ordinary sense of the word. It is rather the personal notebook of a filmmaker, the raw data of a public opinion survey, the first draft of a work that still must be thought out, nourished, and put together.
Jean de Baroncelli, Le Monde, April 23, 1966
These children of their time are thus put before us. Boys on one side, girls on the other. The boys, always lagging a bit behind the girls their age, awkward, passionate, not managing to make their way out of adolescence, desperately romantic despite their braggadocio, their obscenities, their "killing" jokes, their adult preoccupations. The girls much surer of themselves, having both feet in real life already, more clear-headed, and cruelly indifferent when they are not in love...
Louis Chauvet, Le Figaro, April 26, 1968
I have heard Jean-Luc Godard's most stubborn partisans murmur that "this time" he hasn't done as good work as he usually does. I have feeling that I am going to be obliged to defend Godard if people begin to be unfair to him. No! Masculine Feminine is not a less good film than the others. It is merely equally despicable.
Philippe Haudiquet, Image et Son, No. 195
Masculine Feminine comes along to prove once again that Jean-Luc Godard does not manage to express himself simply, that he wanders off, on his own whim, on useless and pedantic digressions, and that he is content to film very rough canvases (he has confessed several times that he worked little, and works less and less on his scenarios). And this is too bad, for Godard chose three admirable interpreters, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Chantal Goya, and Marlene Joubert, who from time to time begin to exist on-screen in an intense moving way.
Andre Arnaud, Cahiers du Cinema, No. 195, July 1966
"I picked a nice sunny afternoon to go see Jean-Luc Godard's Latest film, Masculine Feminine. It's nothing to write home about.
"All the same, it's a rather curious sight to see a thirty-five-year-old filmmaker age before your very eyes. Jean-Luc Godard has taken it upon himself to look at young people with the gaze of a diplodocus leafing through Salut les copains.
"This is to say that perseverance was required as he searched for his characters ... and bad faith as he wrote the text that he had his actors read.
"You can't summarize the plot of Masculine Feminine. It's a rough draft, like almost everything Godard does. A certain sly stubbornness is nonetheless exhibited in this rough draft of a film as it insistently presents a few ridiculous and rather pretentious puppets as representative young people of today. This is the thread through the labyrinth of Masculine Feminine. Doubtless Godard is not happy to be going out of fashion so fast, and therefore has fallen into a sort of cantankerousness when dealing with anything regarding the young."
Masculine Feminine: Dutchman
I find it incredible that so soon after I read Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) play Dutchman I would find a homage to it in Jean-Luc Godard's film Masculine Feminine (I posted my original reaction to Dutchman in my Dialectic Humanism blog). It's hard to see the role Godard's version (or theft - you be the judge) of Dutchman has in the overall plot of Masculine Feminine. It's possible that Godard was attempting to show an example of the Black Power movement, and to group this movement with the other youthful revolutionary movements portrayed in the film.
The commentary on the revolutionary qualities of Charlie Parkers' music extends far beyond the words themselves. It brings forth questions about the price of fame, and the appropriation of the public image of the famous for causes they themselves never supported.
This contrast sharply with Madeleine's wish to be appropriated by the corporate media machine. As she happily says when asks if she is member of the Pepsi Generation by a reporter, "Oh yes, I adore Pepsi Cola." Thus giving a neatly package corporate sound bite - all the more valuable to big business since she is steadily climbing the ladder of fame. For Madeleine to exhibit such a naive willingness to except a manufactured image as her true representative is a thing of true beauty to any capitalist.
I have included a few lines of dialogue from the 'Dutchman' scene in Masculine Feminine, and from the original Dutchman play to allow you an opportunity to compare and contrasts.
BLACK MAN (off): Take Charlie Parker.
PAUL: Oh, the bitch look!
BLACK MAN: If they told him, Charlie, my boy, lay off the sax...
Paul is looking around with great concern, first at the group, then around the car, then back at the group.
A shot of a revolver in the woman's hand. Within a couple seconds she covers most of the gun with the other hand in her lap.
BLACK MAN (off): ... and you'll have the right to shoot the first ten whites ...
A tight shot of the woman, looking down, the second Black man looking at her from the right.
BLACK MAN (off): ... you see in the street, he'd have pitched his horn into the sea, and he'd never have played another note in his life, not one.
The woman has looked up at the speaker, than over at Paul and Robert.
WOMAN: What are you looking at, you punks?
A long shot from outside on the level of the train as it hurtles by. A shot rings out.
[end of Masculine Feminine excerpt]
Charlie Parker? Charlie Parker. All the hip white boys scream for Bird. And Bird saying, "Up your ass, feeble-minded ofay! Up your ass." And they sit there talking about the tortured genius of Charlie Parker. Bird would've played not a note of music if he just walked up East Sixty-seventh Street and killed the first ten white people he saw. Not a note! And I'm the great would-be poet. Yes. That's right! Poet. Some kind of bastard literature ... all it needs is a simple knife thrust. Just let me bleed you, you loud whore, and one poem vanished.
[end of Dutchman excerpt]
Masculine Feminine: Credits
Jean-Luc Godard - Direction and Scenario
Willy Kurant - Photography
Rene Levert - Sound
Bernard Toublanc-Michel - Assistant Director
Agnes Guillemont - Editor
Phillipe Dussart - Director of Production
Jean-Pierre Leaud - Paul
Chantal Goya - Madeleine
Catherine-Isabelle Duport - Catherine
Marlene Jobert - Elisabeth
Michel Debord - Robert
Birger Malmsten - He
Eva Britt Strandberg - She
Elsa Leroy - Miss 19 of Mademoiselle Age Tendre
Francoise Hardy - Woman with American Officer
Brigitte Bardot, Antoine Bourseiller - Actors in Cafe
Chantal Darget - Woman on Metro