A young man with a face both handsome and grotesque questions a young woman as cute as a cookie about socialism. With her velvet eyes and pretty mouth, the girl, who was recently anointed Miss Nineteen, smiles sweetly and says: I dont know a thing about it!
This is a perfect example of the triviality and poignancy so arresting in French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godards Masculine Feminine, a film made for the era of James Bond and Vietnam. The scene is Paris in 1965, where a group of self-absorbed twentysomethings half-heartedly seek the unbearable weight of being, secretly wishing to be rid of the ennui that lingers from their bourgeois upbringings. Paul is a self-described sociologist searching for meaning whether it be found in a political revolution or the ideal pair of tits. His idea of joining the leftist movement is putting up posters around town, tagging bathroom stalls and using the Figaro as toilet paper. But he often gets sidetracked, obsessing over his girlfriend Madeleine. Shes Pauls dopey match, a soft-spoken girl with a perfect brunette bob. Shes just cut her first 45 for RCA and is on her way to becoming a pop-singing ingénue.
As superficial as his characters seem, Godard stuns the audience with truth by way of context, injecting otherwise aimless conversations with moments of profound simplicity and ingenious clarity. In one scene, Paul is attempting to court Madeleine in the loo at work. In between comments about her breasts and bedding her, he says, matter-of-factly: You cant live without tenderness. You might as well shoot yourself.
The directors disdain for the fairy tale films of Hollywood is evident in the way he irreverently uses long shots and muffled audio to create a perspective analogous to real life. Strangers pass between the camera lens and its subject, and the din of street noise blasts out details of conversation.
Godard is often accused of being excessively self-indulgent, presenting films-within-a-film and frequently calling himself a philosopher. But it seems like he enjoyed making light of melodrama especially in this movie. Why else would he toss in gruesome scenes of murder and suicide, finishing them off with twee pop music? Perhaps he was also an absurdist, and that was his way of indulging us.
In French with English subtitles. At the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237). 7 and 9:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday, Oct. 14-15, and 5 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 16.
Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts editor. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.