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The Criterion Collection presents
A Woman Is a Woman (Une femme est une femme) (1961)

Émile: Is that why you're sad?
Angéla: No.
Émile: Why then?
Angéla: Because I'd like to be in a musical comedy starring Cyd Chrisse and Gene Kelly!

- Jean-Claude Brialy, Anna Karina

Review By: Robert Edwards  
Published: June 13, 2004

Stars: Jean-Claude Brialy, Anna Karina, Jean-Paul Belmondo
Other Stars: Jeanne Moreau
Director: Jean-Luc Godard

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:23m:58s
Release Date: June 22, 2004
UPC: 037429187821
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Jean-Luc Godard is arguably the most important director of the French New Wave. This group (including François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and others) of critics-turned-filmmakers broke away from the old-fashioned "tradition of quality" films of the era and turned film style on its head. Gone were the rules that dictated how a shot must be composed and how these shots had to be edited together. Gone were the rules that film couldn't be self-referential, that so-called "realism" was the goal of movie-making, and that any mistakes during the shooting must be erased from the final product. Certainly, there were other pioneers who disregarded classical Hollywood film style, but by their numbers and sheer output, the New Wave directors forever changed the landscape of cinema.

Of this group, Godard is usually considered to be the most intellectual and difficult. Certainly, many of his films are filled with high-brow cultural references to art, politics, and philosophy, and there is a certain level of knowledge necessary to completely appreciate many of his works. But these elements are balanced by a spontaneity in his filmmaking, a loose and open feel that's the direct result of his working methods. Perhaps it's this combination of highfalutin references and an occasionally almost slipshod construction to his films that many find off-putting, but many of his films are extremely accessible, and A Woman is a Woman certainly fits into this category.

Despite his personal distaste for the dictates of classical Hollywood style, Godard loved American films, and nowhere is this more evident than in A Woman is a Woman, his tribute to/parody of musicals. The plot is basic: Angéla (Anna Karina) works as a stripper, and is living with bookseller Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy). She wants a baby, but he's not interested, so she turns to her old flame Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo). On this skeletal plot, Godard hangs music, dance, and songs, as would be expected. But this is no classical musical à la The Sound of Music or Oklahoma—it's more like a musical that has been pulverized, then blended, and the pieces re-assembled into a fragmented version of its model. Godard constantly plays with our expectations, such as music swelling on the soundtrack, apparently leading to a song....but there is no song, and Godard has played a joke on us. Angéla performs a song at the strip club, but whenever she sings the musical accompaniment drops off the soundtrack, and all we hear is the sound of her voice. The overblown soundtrack music is chopped into bits, mixed in with the characters' lines, often counterpointing or commenting humorously on the dialogue.

But the schizophrenic music isn't the only source of amusement in the film. It's full of references to American actors and other films, and in one scene Alfred even asks Jeanne Moreau (playing herself) how Jules and Jim, which Truffaut was filming at the same time, is going! The characters break the fourth wall and address the camera directly, in winking asides, and in one case bowing to the audience. There are even bits of surrealism—a magical changing booth and a fried egg that stays airborne while Angéla goes to answer the telephone!

The film has also been described as Godard's "postcard" to Danish actress Anna Karina, and indeed, they would shortly be married, their professional collaboration to continue through most of the 1960s. She's in just about every shot, and cinematographer Raoul Coutard's camera captures her impishness, her doubt and her self-reflection extremely well. It's almost a stretch to call what she's doing as "acting," since she's essentially playing herself, but her performance, like those of co-stars Brialy and Belmondo, is refreshingly spontaneous and thoroughly enjoyable.

If you're already a Godard fan, A Woman Is a Woman is probably one of your favorites. If you're not, you'll be won over by its performances, humor and inventiveness.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is a great transfer. The vibrant reds and blues of Angéla's costumes are matched by the realistic fleshtones, and the image is sharp and detailed. Black levels are good, and there's lots of shadow detail. The digitally-restored image is clean, with only a few speckles and one brief instance of a vertical line running through the image, and grain is minimal. Fox Lorber previously released the film on DVD, but that transfer was nonanamorphic, with faded color, terrible black levels and myriad compression artifacts, and the Criterion edition blows it out of the water.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono audio is limited only by the source materials. It's clear and crisp, and the dialogue and music come across well, although there's little or no bass to speak of.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Charlotte et Véronique ou Tous le garçons s'appellent Patrick, a short film by Godard
  2. Qui êtes-vou, Anna Karina?, a 1966 French television interview with Anna Karina
  3. Publicity materials including 70 photos, 11 posters, and a promotional audio recording
  4. 24-page printed booklet
Extras Review: Godard's early short Charlotte et Véronique ou Tous le garçons s'appellent Patrick is included in its original full frame format. Jean-Claude Brialy plays Patrick, who arranges dates with both Charlotte (Anne Collette) and Véronique (Nicole Berger). It's not especially good, but is interesting when placed in the context of Godard's budding film career, and certainly shows the influence of scriptwriter Eric Rohmer, known for his use of dialogue. Unfortunately, the transfer is nothing special, with sub-par black levels in the opening scenes, and some edge enhancement and compression errors. The credits claim that it's 21 minutes long, but curiously, the actual running time is 19m:32s.

The 13m:06s Qui êtes-vous, Anna Karina? is taken from a 1966 program for French television, and consists mostly of remarks by Karina while she's playing miniature golf (!). She talks about her childhood and move to Paris, the process of acting, and makes brief remarks about Godard. The source material is in rough shape, but it's interesting nonetheless.

The most curious extra is a 34m:16 audio promotional recording, taken from an original 1960s 10" vinyl record, with all the scratches and hiss intact. Essentially, it's a slightly abstracted version of the film, featuring original dialogue and music, interspersed with Godard's usual slightly off-kilter remarks about the characters and their philosophies. Criterion have taken great care to add visual interest to the audio, with text screens featuring translations of the dialogue, and the extensive musical passages are accompanied by abstract patterns of circles that move, pulsate, and change color. One of the screens gets the characters' names mostly wrong, and there is one slight mistranslation, but it's an extremely effective presentation.

The photo galleries feature 70 behind-the-scenes and publicity photos by on-set photographer Raymond Cauchetier, and the 11 posters (from various countries and of various vintages) are presented well, with closeups of interesting details. The original theatrical trailer is somewhat grainy and dark, but otherwise looks very good, and Godard does the voice-over, talking about his working methods.

Criterion's subtitles are excellent, showing a great sensitivity to differences in cultural knowledge. For example, in one scene, a policeman remarks that one of the characters reads L'Humanité, which the subtitles translate as "the Communist newspaper." Most English speakers are probably unaware that L'Humanité is indeed the official organ of the French Communist Party, and this level of cultural sensitivity in subtitle translation is both rare and welcome.

Film critic J. Hoberman contributes an interesting, albeit brief essay on the film, in the 24-page booklet. But most of the interesting bits of information in his essay seem to be taken directly from an article about the film by Michèle Manceaux, first published in 1961 and also included in the booklet.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard's A Woman is a Woman is a classical Hollywood musical, shattered to bits and then re-assembled as only Godard could do it. It's extremely accessible, and Criterion's beautiful transfer and interesting extras add up to a winning package.


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