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A WOMAN IS A WOMAN (UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME)(director/writer: Jean-Luc Godard; cinematographer: Raoul Coutard; editors: Agnès Guillemot/Lila Herman; music: Michel Legrand; cast: Anna Karina (Angéla), Jean-Claude Brialy (Emile), Jean-Paul Belmondo (Alfred Lubitsch); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Georges de Beauregard/Carlo Ponti; Rialto Pictures; 1961-France-in french with English subtitles)
“It has a certain smugness about it that has always kept me at a distance from enjoying a Godard film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer-director Jean-Luc Godard’s (“Breathless”/”Alphaville”/”Contempt”) third feature film was innovative at the time for its jumps cuts, free form cinematic approach and fragmented pacing, but has not aged that well. It stars the director’s wife at the time Anna Karina, who has the camera on her for almost every sec of the film. This was advertised as an homage to the glossy MGM musicals of the 1950s, and in one scene Anna Karina lets on that she wants “to be in a Hollywood movie with Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly, (with) choreography by Bob Fosse.” Godard has said “I wanted to make a non-realistic musical, which is already a contradiction.” It’s a lighthearted and playful musical comedy, Godard’s most accessible film and first in color. But it’s also a sluggish film that feeds on cinema verité in lieu of having no serious plot and an artificial studio look filled with garish sets. It’s also humorless (its asides to other films never registers as humorous), has too many unfunny visual sight gags, is as unappealing as eating taffy and seems to be patting itself on the back thinking its dumb adolescent rebellion against the establishment is revolutionary (the childish heroine exclaims at one point when she’s pouting to have her way with the man she loves that “I don’t know if it’s a comedy or a tragedy, but in any case it’s a masterpiece.”). It has a certain smugness about it that has always kept me at a distance from enjoying a Godard film.

The flighty Angéla (Anna Karina), a stripteaser in a third-rate Parisian nightclub, lives with her practical-minded bookseller boyfriend Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy) and dreams of being a famous actress. Emile’s adventurous free-spirited low-life friend, Alfred Lubitsch (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a photographer, is attracted to Angéla but realizes that she’s crazy about Emile and keeps a distance. One night Angéla tells Emile that she wants to have a baby, but he responds by saying he’s not ready for marriage. The silly girl threatens to go to bed with the first man she sees in the street, but chickens out. Instead she approaches a surprised Alfred with her proposition and Emile says he doesn’t mind, and the two fool around in the bathroom without going all the way. The next day, Alfred takes Angéla out to a cafe and tells her that he loves her. Meanwhile Emile decides to marry Angéla, but when he doesn’t find her at work he thinks she made love with Alfred and gets upset. Later at home, he tells her he’s leaving for Rio. This brings Angéla to tears, and the two forgive each other and reunite.

This is the kind of dumb musical comedy that nowadays can be seen as a sitcom that regularly plays in the multiplexes in wide screen showings. That it had many innovative techniques when first released, doesn’t count for much now except to give Godard his props for getting there first.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”