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Masculin Féminin: The Criterion Collection

"This film could be called The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola. Believe what you will." So reads one of the many intertitles in Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin Féminin (1966), providing one of the best-known catch-phrases in cinema. In this seminal film, Godard presents a portrait of Parisian youth occupied with political rabble-rousing and, as the movie's real title implies, the eternal dance between the sexes. Wide-eyed and smarmy, New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud plays Paul, a pseudo-intellectual just out from his military service. When he meets the pixieish Madeliene (Chantal Goya) in a café, Paul is smitten and pursues the aspiring pop star (which Goya was in real life). But this is Godard — anything resembling a typical tale of romance, or even a straightforward narrative, is tossed out the window. Instead, we're given numerous scenes of dialogue as interrogation, where various characters engage in lengthy question-and-answer sessions. In fact, for these scenes, Godard placed an earphone in one actor's ear in order to provide him or her with questions to ask the other; the responses are improvised by the actors. This spontaneity gives scenes like that between Paul and Madeleine in an office restroom a freshness and vitality. The most infamous such scene comes when Paul, working as a pollster, queries a teen model dubbed "Miss 19" on various world events and political matters, of which she proves terribly ignorant. It's mean-spirited but definitely funny — one longs to see what Godard could do with Jessica Simpson and one reel of film.

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Masculin Féminin can seem a minor piece of work, consisting as it does of meandering conversations played out in the city's cafés, bowling alleys, and laundromats; its characters lack depth, and its storyline is almost nonexistent. But it doesn't take much thought to realize that this is actually a fairly revolutionary flick. Mixing fictional characters and a documentary style, it predates the art of the mockumentary by a few decades, and its attempt to record youth culture has surely been an influence on Slacker (1991) and the dozens of other films of its ilk. The surreal Godardian touches work, too, from the frequent intertitles ("Human labor resurrects things from the dead;" "Dialogue with a consumer product") set off with the sound of gunshots, to the random acts of violence which no one seems especially troubled by. Masculin Féminin also provides a new insult to heave at rude talkers in a movie theater: "Can it, Trotskyite!" The Criterion Collection edition of Masculin Féminin presents the film in its original 1.33:1 ratio, with a nicely restored black-and-white transfer which captures the grain in the film that makes Paris look so seedy and inviting. The soundtrack also sounds clear in Dolby Digital 1.0. Supplements consist of a raft of interviews. A 1966 TV profile of Goya (5 min.) feels like an excerpt from Godard's film as an off-screen questioner lobs queries at the chanteuse. Another segment (14 min.) with the actress, recorded in 2005, allows her to relate how she met Godard and some of his unusual methods during filming. Cinematographer Willy Kurant, who subbed for Godard regular Raoul Coutard, talks mainly about technical matters of lighting and film stock (11 min.). Godard collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin discusses the director's style and intentions (15 min.), while film scholars Freddy Buache and Dominique Païni sit around a small table and discuss the film as if they were characters in its long-overdue sequel (25 min.). Last but not least, a Swedish TV program caught Godard in Sweden working on the film-within-a-film that his characters go see (4 min.). The original and re-release trailers are also included. Keep-case.
—Marc Mohan

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