Dredged up: “A Woman is a Woman isn’t so bad” (another piece written circa 2011)
March 1, 2015 § Leave a comment
As soon as I hit play on this 1961 Godard picture, a wave of dread came over me. This was followed swiftly by shame. I was supposed to be excited and energised. I’m meant to like Godard, aren’t I? Well, I do. Well, I appreciate him, his prodigious influence, his eschewing of rules and dogmas, his sometimes irritating passion for the form. His pure balls. I think “Breathless” is to cinema what the monolith was to Stanley Kubrick’s ape-men. Not the best analogy perhaps, but the best I could come up with. 1964’s “Vivre Sa Vie” was interesting, meaning my sister hated it but I thought it was kind of awesome. I retract my earlier statement. I was pumped for this movie.
“Une Femme est une Femme” features Godard favourite (read: lover and muse) Anna Karina as Angela, a burlesque dancer whose cyclist partner, Emile, scoffs at her deep desire to become a mother. Completing a love triangle of sorts is Alfred, a professed admirer of Angela’s who courts her incessantly and would possibly go to great lengths to win her affections, perhaps as far as agreeing to knock her up. New-wave silliness ensues.
Funnily, everything I feared this movie would throw in my face turned out to be the very reasons I was utterly charmed by it. An erratic almost cheeky soundtrack, twee use of colour, fourth-wall breaches, Hollywood rom-com stylings, offbeat visual gags…”Une Femme est une Femme” is the work of a toddler of an artist cavorting in a cinematic playpen with his buddies, and I had a ball watching them. Where “Breathless” was a newborn sprinting on Day 1, this film is baby Godard content having a whole lot of fun in the sand. The first thing you notice is the colours, vibrant, lush almost. Not quite as punk as I’d anticipated. Later on, I’m to be reminded of P.T. Anderson and Bob Elswit’s use of colour in “Punch-Drunk Love” — Emily Watson’s orangey blouse and Adam Sandler’s cobalt-blue suit, both of which evoke outfits worn by this film’s two leads. That movie was also modelled around the classic Hollywood musical, but I am not suggesting any lineage of influence here.
You’re then hit with the music. Either it makes you cock your head and wonder a little, or it pisses you off from the get go. It’s almost like a component of dialogue, a mish-mash of pop tunes and orchestral flourishes that don’t simply underscore happenings but are part of their very architecture. Personally, I cocked my head, perhaps getting a little miffed, but then I was promptly swept away. There are even moments that teeter on the edge of dance while others openly allude to Technicolor umbrella numbers of the 50s (I assume). One of the final scenes in Angela and Emile’s apartment has a very choreographed feel with its gliding cameras and swelling strings, and at one point earlier in the film, Angela actually mentions Gene Kelly and Bob Fosse while holding dance poses. Which brings me to the next and most obvious observation. That Godard tops Tarantino when it comes to referencing both himself and pop culture. This movie is awash with references. Half of them did not ring a bell, but I was certainly aware of their presence. But unlike, say, his later, more political/philosophical films, these references are the loving touches of a chain-smoking geek, not the indignant jabs of a pseudo-intellectual (which, of course, there is nothing wrong with being, at least not always).
“A Woman Is a Woman” is incredibly playful and that’s the best way to approach it. That being said, Anna Karina, I think, makes an incredibly assured turn as Angela. She seems so damn comfortable in front of the camera, so at ease you might think she was born in front of one, a statement which would automatically make a fifth of the world’s population natural-born actors. But honestly, Karina carries this film, an achievement which was recognised at the 1962 Berlin Film Festival in some capacity. All the performances are good, but there is not a forced moment in hers. To perhaps preface everything I’ve said, I wouldn’t be surprised if every spoken word was improvised. There is a care-free yet heightened naturalism in the characters’ interactions. Regarding Angela and Emile, there is an almost childish quality to their relationship. It’s clear from their bickering and non-verbal name-calling (you’ll see) that they’re crazy about each other, but that this might equally be the reason for their coupling being a tenuous one. To me, Alfred doesn’t stand a chance, never did. But like lichen on a tree or one of those birds on the ass of a rhino, good on him for trying, for sticking with it.
As to what this film actually says or suggests about femininity and love, I haven’t thought that far ahead yet. When I watch films I tend to focus on style on first viewing, taking more interest in the actual story and content on subsequent sit-throughs. But if anything, my off-the-cuff impression is that Angela is nostalgic for a fading feminine ideal, that of the woman with strong nesting and maternal yearnings, a sexuality that commands the male gaze, and a sense of unerring devotion to the one she has chosen to love. Perhaps in an age when women will soon burn their bras and stick it to their ovarian cycles with The Pill, Angela feels that despite all these modernisations, a woman is a woman. Or maybe it’s simply Godard who thinks this.