Monday, May 3rd, 2021
Studio: The Criterion Collection
May 03, 2021
By Kaveh Jalinous
Masculin Féminin is one of the most acclaimed films from the famed French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard. Masculin Féminin is a trifecta: a fascinating character study, a chaotic look at a relationship, and a showcase of 1960s France. The film is not driven by a central plot, rather, it explores a variety of topics.
Masculin Féminin follows Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud) as he makes his way through Paris in a time of constant change for France. This is a time when national identity is constantly questioned, the youth begin to significantly divert from the ways of their parents, and societal cues that were once kept in high regard are rapidly falling apart. When he meets the high-spirited aspiring singer Madeline (Chantal Goya), the two instantly fall for each other, and into a volatile relationship.
The performances in Masculin Féminin are incredible. Léaud – best known for his role as Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows – is a captivating screen presence throughout. Goya’s transitions between light and bubbly to serious and emotional are effortless. The two’s chemistry magnifies each of the best parts of their individual performances, making them more memorable as a result. While Masculin Féminin’s exploratory script and beautiful direction are a nice reminder of why Godard’s film is so unforgettable, the performances are a perfect reminder of why the film continues to have such a strong effect to this day.
Masculin Féminin is also a unique time capsule of 1960s France. Godard constantly jumps back and forth between exploring Paul’s and Madeline’s relationship to exploring how Paul, and the youth around him, interact with the social cues and “rules” of their country. Not all of the ideas have aged well. They are most interesting when they explore the revolution, the youth counterculture of France, and, as the film calls them, “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola.” It’s fascinating to not only see what aspects of these ideas have changed as a result of time, but also, what has stayed the same.
The French New Wave was a period of filmmaking defined by nonconformity. Directors told their stories in completely unconventional and often experimental ways. Godard was one of the showiest filmmakers of the time in this regard. His quirky but satisfying storytelling style shines through in every moment of Masculin Féminin. While the film is technically centered around Paul’s and Madeline’s relationship, Godard tells the tale of their love in an unpredictable way, moving so quickly that it can be hard for viewers to keep up. While this is somewhat disorienting at certain moments, Masculin Féminin keeps you on the edge of your seat, even if the film is essentially a series of conversations between characters.
The Criterion Collection’s 4K restoration of the film looks absolutely fantastic. The edition is also stacked with interviews, including one from 1966 with Goya, and some from 2004 and 2005 with Goya, Godard, among others. The most interesting and unique featurette is footage of Godard directing one of the film’s most experimental, well-made and innovative scenes, where he uses the technique mise en abyme, or “film within a film.”