godard: awed or odd?

Jean-Luc Godard’s A Woman is a Woman revolves around the intertwined relationship of a stripper named Angela, her boyfriend Emile, and his best friend Alfred. Angela, desperate for a baby, seems to be willing to pull out all the stops in order to be able to conceive, even giving Emile, who is repulsed by the idea of having a child, an ultimatum and actually cheating on him with Alfred. The French film follows Angela’s constant back and forth between the two men coupled with odd interludes of silent scenes and musical scores. For a film that was meant to be a musical, I couldn’t help but get the feel of a silent comedy. By comparison, it wasn’t quite the type of musical I had ever watched, no characters randomly breaking out into song and dance numbers, aside from Angela’s amateurish performance at the sleazy bar.

It was undoubtedly one of the weirdest foreign-made films I have come to watch, unlike the spread of British films I was accustomed to, but with a storyline that was not particularly ground breaking nor impactful for a European Film class. Admittedly, I had been a little judgmental throughout watching the film, I was so used to big-budgeted blockbuster movies with their all-star cast and incredulous special effects, basically what Speidel refers to as Hollywood and mainstream narratives. Old films and foreign cinema were things I tend to veer away from, so the 1961 French film was definitely something new. Despite this, it was refreshing to see how cinema was like in its early stages—before its evolution into the oversaturated movies we see today. Also, an exposure to films created in a culture completely different from mine or what I was used to was something I took into account when I was enlisting in this European Film class.

A Woman is a Woman is a seemingly light film that plays its part as a romance movie yet, it still manages to pay close attention to the details. This, I think, is what makes the film a great one, maybe even a classic to some. From the very beginning, the audience is greeted by French words and names in a large, retro Hollywood font. Some musical choices were fitting to the scene, but others weren’t, almost as if to intentionally make the feel of the movie awkward. And then there were more visual details, the couple making out in the same spot over several days was a weird addition, but the scenes with book titles were incredibly smart and well-played. The aesthetic of Angela and Emile’s apartment, with its multiple balconies, random bicycle, hanging clothes dryer, and neon bathroom lights was odd but fitting enough for the odd film. The scene wherein Angela looks at the photo of Emile and another girl, with the back and forth shots of Angela, the photo, and Alfred, partnered with the emotional song from the jukebox forced the audience to be confronted by what Angela was feeling in that moment.

Looking past these details, I still couldn’t help but feel detached from the characters. The audience doesn’t really fall in love with any of their stark personalities other than Anna Karina’s beautiful looks. There isn’t an understanding about where all these things are coming from—why did Angela randomly and instantaneously yearn to be a mother? Just because it was in her horoscope? Why was Emile so flagrantly irate at Angela? Overall, the movie had a few loose strings and random details (or maybe I’m just not as informed and understanding quite yet!), but it was a good, light start to a class on European Film.

 

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