A Woman Is a Woman (Jean-Luc Godard / France-Italy, 1961):
(Une Femme est une Femme)

Analytical whimsy, captivating dissonance. Lifeís "mauvais thť‚tre" is given Eastman Color and Cinemascope rectangles in Jean-Luc Godardís self-described "first real film," perpetually on the verge of turning into an MGM fantasy circa 1957. The lanky Parisian pixie (Anna Karina) enters and exits the story with a wink, at the Trocadero cabaret she hops onstage in sailorís outfit and demurely doffs it under rotating color lights (Loganís Bus Stop), "je suis trŤs belle" is her byword. She wants a baby "in the next 24 hours," but her stolid beau (Jean-Claude Brialy) is saving himself for the Sunday bicycle race. "Why are men such cowards?" "To compensate for the nastiness of women." Enter the chum named Lubitsch (Jean-Paul Belmondo), and their fickle triangle proceeds like John Osborne choreographed by Renť Clair. Like Pasoliniís atheistic nostalgia for faith, here is Godardís modernist nostalgia for classicism, the yearning for Singiní in the Rain and the awareness that it can no longer be made. The lushness of Michel Legrandís score is abruptly splintered by street noises, Nouvelle Vague in-jokes purposefully crumble the texture: Belmondo at the bar turns to Jeanne Moreau and asks how Jules and Jim is going, "moderato" she says. (Truffaut returns the favor by quoting the loversí book-cover quarrel in Stolen Kisses.) Burt Lancasterís grin, Manet on a blurry television screen, six minutes of Charles Aznavourís poetry wafting out of the jukebox. The anecdote about the coquetteís letters of course becomes Montparnasse-Levallois (Paris vu par...), a curving 180į degree pan finds its completion in 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. Infinitely inventive gaiety is but a veil for anxiety, Godardís contemplation of Karina swings from adoring to ruthless and the bouncy camera turns ominously interrogative as it stalks the heroine around the apartment in a prowling POV. Brialy throws his hands up: "Itís hard to tell if this is a comedy or a tragedy, or a masterpiece." Scorsese in New York, New York and Potter in Pennies From Heaven are the great inheritors of all of this. Cinematography by Raoul Coutard.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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