Une Femme est une Femme

Jean-Luc Godard, 1961

How good a Godard film is tends to be inverse to how seriously it takes itself. During his initial years as a filmmaker Godard was at his most playful, approaching moviemaking in a care free manner that led to him being, almost by accident, responsible for countless stylistic innovations (most notably his use of jump cuts) that would influence generations of filmmakers to follow. What stands as one of Godard’s best works, is also one of his earliest, and most light hearted films Une Femme est une Femme.
Une Femme est une Femme follows Angela (played by Godard’s then wife Anna Karina) as she attempts to persuade her boyfriend 
Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy) to have a child with her. When he refuses she begins to flirt with the idea of having a baby with Émile’s best friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo). As always with Godard, the plot is secondary with Godard using it merely as a framework throughout which he can shoehorn in various nonsensical 
conversations and playful camerawork.

Whereas his previous feature À Bout de Souffle can be seen as Godard’s own take on the crime films of directors he admired such as Howard Hawks, Une Femme est une Femme is his take on the Hollywood musical (further imitating Hawks by choosing to make genre pictures) and also his earliest foray into colour filmmaking. Godard’s regular cinematographer Raoul Coutard doesn’t squander this opportunity putting the use of colour at the forefront, ensuring that the film is illuminated by lighting of bright blue and red, particularly during the scenes in which Angela sings at the club. This use of red and blue is extended to both the set design and to the costumes of the characters, meaning that despite the realist elements associated with the Nouvelle Vague such as location shooting the film still possesses the fantastical appearance of a 1930’s musical.

 Whenever Godard casts a male lead other than Belmondo in these earlier pictures you can’t help being disappointed that he isn’t there, always feeling as though his replacement is simply acting as his stand in, this is also true of any female lead being considered over Karina. As he manages to cast both in this film (a feat he would only manage on only one more occasion four years later with Pierrot le Fou) the performances are some of the best seen in Godard’s oeuvre with Belmondo displaying the effortless cool that would typify all of his future roles. Karina is at her best too, not lip synching but singing the musical numbers herself and giving a great comic performance as the fickle Angela. Having married shortly before the films production, Godard appears to be setting out to make Une Femme est une Femme a tribute to his new wife and her beauty affording her numerous close ups and direct-to-camera dialogue.

After 1967 Godard’s films would begin to change for the worst, his marriage to Karina would end and his films would begin to take an ever more serious approach to their subject matter. He would focus less on technical and stylistic innovation in favour of experimenting in ways such as rejecting the narrative form of cinema, regarding it as capitalist construction, and with his most recent film Socialism even refusing to grant it English subtitles at Cannes regarding it as the language of western imperialism. With this his influence has wavered, the New Hollywood directors of the 1970’s took inspiration in countless ways from his earlier films and in turn have replaced him as the directors who the current wave of independent filmmakers look to emulate. When you think how Godard has sidelined himself it seems a shame, films such as Une Femme est une FemmeÀ Bout de SouffleAlphaville and Vivre sa Vie are all still here though are all, and standing the test of time as some of the most enjoyable art house films to ever be contributed to cinema.
words by pete bond.