Thursday, May 7, 2020

Classic Movie Review: A Woman is a Woman (1961)

A Woman is a Woman (1961)
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Starring: Anna Karina (Angela), Jean-Claude Brialy (Emile Recamier), Jean-Paul Belmondo (Alfred Lubitsch).
With A Woman is a Woman, Jean-Luc Godard’s third film, we still see Godard firmly implanted in his movie love phase. The film is a tribute to the classic Hollywood musical comedy – a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in classic Hollywood – directly referencing Ernst Lubitsch, Cyd Charrise, Gene Kelly and others. It is a film that winks at the audience throughout – with Godard and his cast referencing themselves, and the films making, their star personas, their personal relationships throughout. It is a love story of a sort – made in the height of the romance between Godard and star Anna Karina – the Honeymoon phase as it were, before things become too tumultuous – and Godard starting making films like Contempt (1963), which among other things was a thinly veiled version of their famed love affair, and its difficultly. You can tell Godard is enamored with Karina in this film – but you can also tell he doesn’t really understand her – perhaps doesn’t understand any woman – and while this is as romantic a film as Godard would ever make, it isn’t a rosy love story – he’s already too cynical for that.
In short, the movie is a love triangle. Karina plays Angela, a striptease artist, who decides she wants to get pregnant. Her boyfriend, Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy) doesn’t want that, thus setting up a conflict between the two of them – and adding in Emile’s best friend, Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo), who is more than willing to do the job Emile doesn’t want.
Your mileage on a film like A Woman is a Woman may well vary. All the cinematic winking to the camera by Godard and company can either be charming or wearisome – and while I fall on the side of the former, the latter is just as valid. The film isn’t pretending to be is realistic – even if Godard referred to it as Neo-Realist musical – but even he had to know that wasn’t the case. The film is shot on a set, the actors are professionals, and not playing versions of themselves, and Godard is constantly drawing attention to his technique. Is there music in the film? Sure – but Godard basically offers of it, and then interrupts those snippets, sometimes dropping the sound out entirely, in ways that convince some audiences there is something wrong with the soundtrack. The strip club Angela works at is like no other strip club you would ever see – with the dancers doing simple, not very erotic dances, to small crowds of individual men who are very respectful – and after a few minutes, it’s all over, and everyone returns to their lives. Of the three actors, Belmondo is the most winking – deliberately referencing himself in Breathless, and his “friend” Burt Lancaster – as he looks directly into the camera – and when he runs into Jeanne Moreau, playing herself, asks her how Jules and Jim is coming along – the Francois Truffaut masterpiece that came out the same year as A Woman is a Woman.
And yet, for me most of this works for me. Godard is clearly enamored by Karina here, and the camera loves her. She isn’t playing anything resembling a real person, but she is certainly showing her comedic chops here – as she glides through the movie on her effortless charm. Even when she and Emile are arguing, it’s all done with charm – the two argue through the covers of books, showing their titles to show what they think of each other.
Now, of course, it’s easy to see A Woman is a Woman for what it was – a film that a genius that Godard could toss off without much thought. His style is here – there are elements here that you can still see in his films to this day, being used and experimented with here for the first time. All told, it doesn’t add up to all that much – it basically adds up to nothing to be honest – but it’s 84-minutes of the type of fun that Godard would soon grow out of – and is missed to this day.

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