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The Criterion Collection presents
"This film could be called, 'The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola.' Understand what you will."
DVD ReviewJean-Luc Godard's impact on the cinema can still be felt to this day. As one of the most important filmmakers to emerge during the nouvelle vague, his authentic direction and compelling exploration of structure clearly influenced Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, and Quentin Tarantino, just to name a few. While Breathless and Band à part may be his most noteworthy films, Masculin, féminin: 15 faits précis contains an urgency and investigative nature that separates it from any other film I've seen.
Although technically the film is written by Godard, from Guy de Maupassant's La femme de Paul and Le Signe, there is no doubt that much of the material was created on the set. Godard's direction is loose in terms of structure and affluent in terms of character. Masculin, féminin is not about a series of events, but the state-of-mind teenagers experience.
Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a social activist who is just entering into the working world after finishing his mandatory service in the French Army. Writing in a café, he starts up a conversation with Madeleine (Chantal Goya) about getting a job at a magazine. Told in fragments (or, as the title indicates, "15 precise facts"), the film chronicles the relationship between Paul and Madeleine, interspersing it with a variety of incidents that range from absurd to profound. As time rolls on, Paul and his fellow communist friend, Robert (Michel Debord), ponder man's plight while Madeleine and her friends, Elisabeth (Marlène Jobert) and Catherine (Catherine-Isabelle Duport), pursue lives of dancing and fashion. The five adults-in-the-making work, love, debate, impose, and squabble within their own ranks as they seek to find truth in this world.
As mentioned above, Godard's film does not concern itself with a coherent plot. It's more of a notebook, comprised of his observations about teenagers at that time. Watching it roughly 40 years later, I realize how nothing much has changed between youths of that era and those of today. While the fashions and particular world events may have changed, they are superficial. Paul and Robert mock US policy involving Vietnam, much like their 21st-century counterparts mock the Bush Administration's policy in Iraq. Each of the five principal characters is unsure of his or her place in the world and is trying on an ideology, a career, or a relationship, to help themselves escape the confinements of modern alienation. Much of the film consists of the actors asking questions that seem to come directly from Godard. At times this can come across as aimless, though I find it rather refreshing. Unlike Rebel Without a Cause and American Graffiti, these teenagers truly find themselves caught in the void of an indifferent world. Godard's indulgence in their questioning of one another is what separates Masculin, féminin from all other movies depicting teenage angst.
The performances are all effective and convincing. Léaud builds upon his youthful performances as Truffaut's Antoine Doinel, and further cements himself as the New Wave's poster child. He makes the erratic behavior of Paul, such as when he chastises a projectionist about not playing an erotic movie in its proper aspect ratio, meld with his somber isolation quite seamlessly. Even more impressive is Chantal Goya, a yé-yé girl (France's 1965 version of Britney Spears), who proves herself to be quite an actress. Playing the role of a girl who wishes to be a pop star (Goya's own songs are featured in the film), she exhibits a well of emotion as Madeleine, especially in the film's closing shot. An early scene when she and Paul question one another about sex is filled with innocence, but the final scene is stripped of all pretense and worldly delights.
Accompanying the authentic performances are the efforts of Godard's crew. Cinematographer Willy Kurant mixes documentary-style photography with classic Hollywood camerawork, evoking a realistic tone in his visuals while also keeping the aesthetic stylized. Agnès Guillemot's editing is quintessential nouvelle vague, moving the viewer swiftly from one episode to the next. The editing never calls attention to itself or feels gimmicky, especially since many shots are held for well over three minutes, but serves the film's purpose.
Even though the actors turn in impressive outings and the technical merits are noteworthy, Godard is the real genius behind it all. He successfully transforms the medium of film into a depiction of human truth. I can't pretend to understand everything about this film, such as its inclusion of random bits of violence throughout, but it put me right back into the frame of mind I'd felt during high school.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The black-and-white 1.33:1 RSDL transfer is outstanding! Nary a flaw can be seen, with blacks looking luscious and displaying great shadow detail. Contrast is stellar and detail is sharp. The picture is show gorgeous and perfect that the film looks like it was shot last week. This is one of the best transfers you'll ever come across.
Image Transfer Grade: A+
Audio Transfer Review: The French mono track preserves the original theatrical audio mix. The track is well balanced and clean, with sound effects coming across crisply. This is a nice bit of film preservation.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
On the disc itself is a collection of video interviews with various people connected to the film. Chantal Goya, 1966 (04m:49s) is an archival interview that the actress gave during the film's release. She is quite charming and offers some interesting insight into how people are reacting to the film (including her parents), while also doing the usual personal promotion bits. The Chantal Goya, 2005 (15m:08s) interview is a wonderful follow-up to the first one. Here she gives a vivid description about how she got the part and delves more deeply into the film's meaning than in the prior interview. Watching the two together makes the other one seem more interesting.
Following that is Willy Kurant (12m:01s), who does a nice job of recalling his experiences as Godard's cinematographer. He delves into technical aspects of the job, but also talks about his interaction with the cast and Godard. It's a very thorough 12 minutes. Following that is Jean-Pierre Gorin (15m:36s). Gorin collaborated with Godard multiple times and helps shed some light on the director's intentions with Masculin, féminin. He also expresses his initial reaction to the film in 1966 and how it influenced his view of cinema. The final interview, Freddy Bauche and Dominique Païni (24m:55s), is a discussion between the two film critics about their reactions to the film in 1966 and all these years later. Some of their comments come across as meandering and irrelevant, but others are astute.
Rounding out the supplemental material is a featurette, Godard on Swedish Television (04m:07s), that shows the director making the film-within-the-film scene. It includes a brief interview with Godard and gives a great, albeit brief, look at the man's craft on the set. The original theatrical trailer and the Rialto re-release trailer are also included on this DVD. Watching the original trailer makes the DVD's image transfer all the more impressive.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsWhether a Godard fan or not, Criterion's treatment of Masculin, féminin: 15 faits précis is worthy of your attention. The image transfer is absolutely stunning and the supplemental material rounds out this fine package.
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