Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, 1961
This is a charming film, plain and simple. It took me several tries to get into it and to realize that you need to have your full attention placed towards the screen in order to get the film, but once I stopped doing other things, worrying about other things and generally stopped being selfish, I came to love it. It is a silly film ultimately, which are always my favorite films.
This film stars Godard’s first wife Anna Karina as Angela, Jean-Claude Brialy as Emile and Jean-Paul Belmondo as Alfred. Angela wants a baby by her boyfriend, Emile, however he is reluctant to do anything about it. Alfred is a friend of Emile’s but is also desperately in love with Angela. Alfred would give Angela anything she wants, romantically at least.
However the plot is only secondary to the machinations that Godard employs in telling the story. The first jarring aspect of the film is the score. The score is sort of overly sweet, like something out of a Hollywood musical starring Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. The score also cuts in and out at seemingly random times. Usually when there seems to be something mundane going on in the screen the music is turned up to high volume. Angela is also a strip tease artist who sings a song as a part of her strip tease. This is one of my favorite scenes. She is dressed in a sailor’s outfit and she seems to be making the song up on the fly. She dances around to the music at high volume, but when she decides to sing, the music cuts out and all you hear is her beautiful voice singing tantalizing verses.
Another machination is the awareness of the audience. Several times Angela looks directly in the camera as if to say “I know you are watching me.” Early on in the film, before Angela and Emile start to really fight, Angela says “let’s take a bow before we proceed with the farce.” Then they start ripping into each other as if nothing has happened.
Godard references his other film and the films of his compatriots quite clearly. He references Lola when Angela does her number at Zodiac. Jean-Paul Belmondo references his previous film with Godard when he says that he wants to catch A bout de souffle on the television. Godard references his friend, Truffaut’s two films Shoot the Pianist and Jules et Jim by shooting cameos with the female leads of the two films. Knowing these references adds another dimension to the humor of the film.
What drives this film is the fight scenes between Angela and Emile. They are bitter, absurd, and at many times charming. My favorite fight scene has got to be the bedroom scene. Angela and Emile get into bed vowing to not speak to one another. Angela can’t sleep so she brings the huge lamp with her to get a book off the shelf to insult Emile with. She covers up part of the title and shows only the word “Monster.” To retaliate, Emile gets a book off the shelf in the same way Angela does, scribbles something on the cover and shows it to her. This sparks an all out book cover war. The absurdity of it comes from their choices. At one point Emile calls Angela a Peruvian Mummy and a Sardine. This is what their love and their competitiveness have brought them to.
This film is absurd and yet engrossing. I recommend it if only to watch with an open eye.
I also recommend reading Mike D’Angelo’s Scenic Routes on A Woman is A Woman at avclub.com If only I can be as eloquent as him.