Une Femme est Une Femme J-L Godard (Fr 1961) J-P Belmondo, J-C Brialy, A Karena
Mobi streamed – viewed 22 May 2020 during the great plague
film as delerium
Godard’s movie, Une Femme est Une Femme (‘Une Femme’) of course begins at the beginning. He uses the opening title sequence to not only to anticipate the themes of the film but to flaunt its wit, provenance, and his mastery in deconstructing cinematic form. In the opening captions, we see written out in huge block caps across the Cinemascope screen and spaced over two shots, the formula that traditionally leads us into the fairy tale: IL ETAIT /cut / UNE FOIS…(once upon/cut/ a time). This opening is followed by a series of words (all in the same huge screen filling block caps a la Godard) that are invocations of the wild promises we see every week in the cinema interjected into the manic film trailers. But instead of flashed excitor words such as: sizzling – hot – teenage sex – explosive – true story etc in ‘Une Femme’ we are hit with such as : LUBISCH – 14 JUILLET – GUILLMOT – COMEDIE – FRANCAIS – GODDARD – and many more..before…
…off camera Anna Karena (AK) calls out: Lights! Camera! Action! (usually the director’s call), and the title Une Femme est Une Femme fades up over an interior shot of a Parisian café, a familiar setting used by Godard in this era, and picks up Angela (sic.; AK ) as she swings through the door.
So what is ‘Une Femme’ about? It seems to me that it is about Godard as the playful lover, playful lover both of Cinema and lover of his star. His movie is both an infatuation with AK and an infatuation with Cinema. Une Femme est une Femme is a delirium of infatuation.
Using the American musical comedy as a tongue in cheek reference or ‘Homage’ Godard strips out the Hollywood film making bible and employs every trick in the counter-culture guerrilla cinema book to deconstruct the genre. Yet, through script, colourisation, editing, wit and the performances – above all his camera’s love affair with AK – Godard maintains the energy vitality and innocence of his original model.
The narrative, such as it is, is written to give full weight to the woman’s perception of the situation. As such the script moves well outside Hollywood’s comfort zone (certainly in 1961), with Angela’s insistence to Emile that she wants a baby. Given Emile’s intransigence on this matter, Angela’s solution to go and make love with Alfred to effect conception, prioritises her biological imperative over romantic faithfulness. This solution and Emile’s relaxed response are both outcomes well outside ‘The Code’. The acting style is ‘cool’, the actors don’t invest in emotive charge, and the interchanges even when not mediated by book titles, tend towards a logic in which the words are owned by the actors but not possessed by them. The dialogue has its own dynamic, in turns ironic radical and left field, it creates its own tensions and resolutions, and is delivered with gestural self possession but without affected commitment.
‘Une Femme’ is characterised by random breaks in the flow of the film’s soundtrack, discontinuities which then resume pick up and continue as if nothing had happened. These edits break into the viewer’s cognitive processes, putting them on alert that they are the targets in a game of manipulation. Take care! It’s just a movie, anything is possible. The script also gives the caste a part to play in breaking through the hallowed conventions of Cinema. With nods winks and little looks they cut through the screen and collude directly with the audience. Seated in the dark (the traditional setting for ignorance) the audience know they are being guyed by the directors simple stunts – absurd undisguised spacial contractions – stunts that point up their complicity in the illusion yet earns their intelligent indulgence and admiration for the director’s filmic delirium. Because Godard loves Cinema as a way of thinking, as a way of life, as a way of saying something about the world. As a way of being: ‘In Love’.
The second delirium that makes up the substance of ‘Une Femme’ is that it is Godard’s ode to Ana Karina. It is his portrait his sonnet his love affair with his muse. He found her in the Cinema (interestingly the full name of AK’s part in Une Femme is: Angela Recame – Reclame is French for an advert and Godard was first smitten with AK in a Palmolive Soap Advert), and he will make her a star of the Cinema. In ‘Une Femme’ AK, wrapped in ‘Minnelli’ red colourisation, is the subject of Godard’s delirium, a series of fantasias – housewife – stripper – child – music comedy star (There is a Gigi sequence. But interestingly Minnelli, director of Gigi, is not one of the names seen either in the opening credits, nor is he mentioned in the script – but Bob Fosse is) . In Godard’s vision AK radiates through Une Femme. Brialy and Belmondo both play out downbeat performances, wandering through most of the takes like clouds on a sunny day. AK is the sunshine.
Bunuel Parajonov, Tarksovski, Herzog Rossellini Resnais are some directors who immediately spring to mind who have made films that constitute a state of delirium. It is of course a subjective judgement. I wonder how Godard came to view ‘Une Femme’ as he moved into a more cerebrally committed mode of film making? In some respects ‘Une Femme’ appears as an indulgence, a film that verges on being self satisfied and over content with itself, but in the end I think its innocence overcomes, its playfulness overrides reservations. Its thematic feminine line, its pricking of male pomposity wrapped up in the bubble of film making justify the final lines of the script, the terrible pun spoken by Angela in bed as a reposte to Emile: “Non une femme n’est pas infame, une femme est une femme”. Much can be forgiven if much is attempted.