“There she goes”: A Woman is a Woman (1961)

dir. Jean-Luc Godard

“Is this a comedy or a tragedy? Either way it’s a masterpiece.”

It’s a simple story. A woman wants a child but her lover says no. His best friend, however, is willing and apparently in love with her. Thus begins a whimsical love triangle — an exploration of gender roles and the dynamics within a relationship.

The tragedy lies within the clashing of a couple, evidently very much in love but still unable to reach any compromise. It’s a premise we’ve seen before but Jean-Luc Godard puts his own comedic twist to it.

This is a film wherein Godard’s passion for the art form truly shines. Just as Angela manipulates Emile into cooperating with her desire to have a child, Godard is as playful with how he manipulates his film. He creates a world in which there are very little boundaries. Continuity is often broken and so is the fourth wall. He inserts a random montage of strangers looking into the camera right in the middle of a conversation. Godard even gives a little wink to the audience with a reference to his most notable film, “Breathless”.

There are small details peppered throughout the film that make it seem just a little bit more magical. My personal favorite is a couple that stands outside of Angela’s apartment, unmoving and unbothered by their surroundings as they continue to kiss throughout multiple scenes. The apartment itself feels like a stage, with long panning shots that switch to a different character once it is their time to speak. Emile rides a bicycle into a shot seemingly out of nowhere and the audience laughs at how absurd it looks. Several times, both characters refuse to speak, choosing to walk around holding a lampshade and communicating through book titles. But maybe that’s not weird. Maybe that’s just how french people are.

“I want to be in a musical”, says Angela, and that’s exactly what this film is, but it’s just not what we’re used to. This is a musical that plays with sound mixing and audience expectations. About five minutes into the film and the sounds cuts abruptly, making the class wonder if there might be something wrong with this copy of the film. Apparently not; Godard is just having fun.

This was released in 1961, almost 60 years ago, and yet in 2019, this still feels absolutely fresh and unique. Anna Karina gives a charming, captivating performance as Angela and you can clearly see the chemistry she has with Jean-Claude Brialy who plays her stubborn lover, Emile. These two, along with Godard’s direction, elevate a simple story into an innovative piece of art.

My favorite moment happens somewhere in the beginning of the film. Angela walks away from the shot and right before Godard cuts, Lubitsch (Jean-Paul Belmondo) turns to the camera and says, “There she goes.”

 

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