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Review: A Woman is a Woman (1961)

Director: | 80 minutes | drama, , romance, | Actors: , Anna Karina, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Henri Attal, Karyn Balm, , , Marie Dubois, Ernest Menzer, Jeanne Moreau, , , Marion Sarraut,

‘A neorealistic musical, as if in a contradiction in terms’, is how Jean-Luc Godard described his third , ‘Une femme est une femme’ (1961). In his early years, the French filmmaker always took a genre that had flourished in Hollywood, and then put his own spin on it. His debut film ‘À bout de souffle’ (1960) was his vision of a and his second ‘Le petit soldat’ (which was only released in 1963 due to the unrest in Algeria) was an idiosyncratic spy film. What he did with ‘Une femme est une femme’, the only cheerful film he made so far, was even more radical. The film is both an ode to and fierce criticism of the Hollywood musicals that made people like Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen great in the 1940s and 1950s. Godard gives it his own twist by dissecting the genre to the bone, so that the viewer is confronted with its ultimate lightness. Remove the , the lush sets, the colorful side characters, the singing and dancing and you are left with a very thin story. The result is alienating, but at the same time ensures that ‘Une femme est une femme’ became one of Godard’s most accessible films.

He gave the lead role to his muse Anna Karina, the young actress he married that same year. She plays Angela Récamier, a spirited woman who earns her money in a shabby strip club in the Parisian working-class district of Saint-Denis. She lives with Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy) in an equally dilapidated apartment, but it is never really clear what the status of their relationship is, even though they bear the same last name. Angela dreams of being an actress and ‘starring in a musical with Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly and being choreographed by Bob Fosse’. However, from one moment to the next she decides that she wants a child, right now because now she is at her most fertile. She introduces it to Emile, but he stops the boat. “Not until we are married,” is his answer. And so Angela turns to their good friend Alfred Lubitsch (Jean-Paul Belmondo), who has never hidden his sympathy for her. He is not unwelcome to it, but Angela starts to doubt. Because secretly she would prefer to stay with Emile. And so the arguments and misunderstandings pile up …

Although the print is labeled a musical, Godard is determined to break as many rules of that genre as possible. The most important aspect, the music, plays a crucial role in this. Godard has access to a sumptuous score by Michel Legrand, but decides to chop the music rigorously into pieces. Whenever – in a typical musical – you would expect the vocals to be used, he turns the music away. The actors pick up their dialogue as if nothing is wrong. The few times that Karina does sing, for example in the strip club, she does so without music. It’s just one of the many ways Godard manipulates sound. In addition, the actors, who largely improvise their dialogue, constantly point out that you are watching a movie. They address the viewer by looking directly into the camera and occasionally discuss artistic principles and dramaturgical constructions. A nice extra dimension for film lovers are the countless references to other films by Godard and his nouvelle-vague colleague François Truffaut. For example, in a bar Belmondo asks Jeanne Moreau, who plays a cameo: ‘How is’ Jules et Jim ‘coming along?’ Another nice touch is the surname of the character Alfred, which refers to Ernest Lubitsch, one of the leading directors of relationship comedies of the 1930s and 1940s to whom Godard also pays homage. A nice extra dimension for film lovers are the countless references to other films by Godard and his nouvelle-vague colleague François Truffaut. For example, in a bar Belmondo asks Jeanne Moreau, who plays a cameo: ‘How is’ Jules et Jim ‘coming along?’ Another nice touch is the surname of the character Alfred, which refers to Ernest Lubitsch, one of the leading directors of relationship comedies of the 1930s and 1940s to whom Godard also pays homage. A nice extra dimension for film lovers are the countless references to other films by Godard and his nouvelle-vague colleague François Truffaut. For example, in a bar Belmondo asks Jeanne Moreau, who plays a cameo: ‘How is’ Jules et Jim ‘coming along?’ Another nice touch is the surname of the character Alfred, which refers to Ernest Lubitsch, one of the leading directors of relationship comedies of the 1930s and 1940s to whom Godard also pays homage.

‘Une femme est une femme’ primarily revolves around Anna Karina, who draws the viewer to herself in every scene. With her deep dark eyes and endless eyelashes, the native Danish is a seductive woman, but her swapping – of course part of this role – can sometimes also get on your nerves. The chemistry with her co-stars is convincing. With Brialy she shares a charming scene in which Angela and Emile stop talking to each other because of a fight and therefore communicate with each other via book and record titles. Belmondo, the star of ‘À bout de souffle’, is cool as ever. Despite their good playing, you can’t help but think of ‘Une femme est une femme’ as a Godard toy. His manipulation in music and images leaves an indelible mark on this film. The director takes himself very seriously, although the tone of his print is not. His criticism focuses not only on Hollywood musicals, but also on his own nouvelle vague. Of course, this film with its artificial constructions is anything but realistic. “I don’t know whether this is a comedy or a tragedy … But I know it’s a masterpiece,” Emile says in the film. And with that he hits the nail right on the head. Because when you forget the humor and style of this print, it turns out that there is a completely different story behind ‘Une femme est une femme’. A film in which a frustrated woman is hopelessly looking for fulfillment in her life. But it is a double bottom that is particularly well hidden. Of course, this film with its artificial constructions is anything but realistic. “I don’t know whether this is a comedy or a tragedy … But I know it’s a masterpiece,” Emile says in the film. And with that he hits the nail right on the head. Because when you forget the humor and style of this print, it turns out that there is a completely different story behind ‘Une femme est une femme’. A film in which a frustrated woman is hopelessly looking for fulfillment in her life. But it is a double bottom that is particularly well hidden. Of course, this film with its artificial constructions is anything but realistic. “I don’t know whether this is a comedy or a tragedy … But I know it’s a masterpiece,” Emile says in the film. And with that he hits the nail right on the head. Because when you forget the humor and style of this print, it turns out that there is a completely different story behind ‘Une femme est une femme’. A film in which a frustrated woman is hopelessly looking for fulfillment in her life. But it is a double bottom that is particularly well hidden. there appears to be a completely different story behind ‘Une femme est une femme’. A film in which a frustrated woman is hopelessly looking for fulfillment in her life. But it is a double bottom that is particularly well hidden. there appears to be a completely different story behind ‘Une femme est une femme’. A film in which a frustrated woman is hopelessly looking for fulfillment in her life. But it is a double bottom that is particularly well hidden.

An alienating experience, that’s how you can call watching ‘Une femme est une femme’. Jean-Luc Godard stripped the musical genre to the bone and then gave it his own interpretation, working manipulatively with music, sound and image. Although the film is certainly humorous thanks to the good acting of Karina, Belmondo and Brialy and the funny nods to the film world – and one of the director’s most accessible works – Godard’s constant juggling is going to be somewhat irritating in the long run because the fact that the film is a style exercise or gets the upper hand. This print is particularly interesting for film freaks who manage to dismantle the double layers, for the average film buff it is funny but probably most of all very confusing. ”

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