Comedy Against Tragedy: A Commentary on Godard’s A Woman is a Woman

Anna Karina in A Woman is a Woman

Common western films today are, what I would describe, very mainstream. A lot of the films I have seen often have common story arcs and themes. We’re exposed to romance, comedy, horror, action, and the like which are reflective of daily life or show a break from it. These films are what we would usually classify as normal; we’re used to them and it takes a really good film to surprise us. However, in this elective we will be exposed to films that disconnects itself from the norm. Such films are meant to be different and unusual to the point that it may be discomforting at times.

A Woman Is a Woman by Jean-Luc Godard is a French film that causes such feeling. Released during the French New Wave, it is a salute to American musical comedy which rejects traditional film mediums. And because it is so different from traditional film, it may be considered to be too odd, especially for people like me who is only immersed in mainstream film.

The film begins with a beautiful woman named Angéla. She is captivating like most stereotypical women in film. Her happy-go-lucky attitude fits perfectly with the music that comes along with every scene she’s in. However, at odd moments the music stops; almost as if someone purposely muted the film randomly. It made me so uncomfortable at times that I began thinking if it was really part of the film or was the film broken given that it is old. As the movie progressed, I realized that at the moments when the music played, a comedic scene is shown.

One scene in particular where Angéla and her lover Émile began arguing about having a child, best exemplified this tug-of-war between the comforting sound of a perfectly fitting musical score and the silence which accompanied scenes that were very serious in tone. It was as if the film and all the elements in it were fighting about whether it will be a comedy or a tragedy, as said by Angéla who has dreamed of being in a comedy herself. The comedy comes when the music is cued and the characters begin acting childishly, like when Émile rode his bicycle around their apartment and when the two lovers made up. The conversations of the characters were also odd at times, first sounding childish and playful which was accompanied by music, then becomes very serious in silence as characters are pulled away from the fantasy of the comedy.

I realized that throughout this movie, the seriousness that came about the silence of the music seemed to be showing Angéla’s true emotions. The beginning of the film shows you a stereotypical woman in film but surprises you with the fact that Angéla was in fact an exotic dancer. She seems very liberated at first but through the montage of her in the bar, I saw and felt that maybe she was trapped in some way. When the silence of the music comes, you notice Angéla’s vulnerability. This for me was best shown when she performs in the bar. The song she chose talks about her being cruel, yet she is a beautiful woman. The creative use of color, music, and lines made me feel captivated, yet sorry for her. It was for me, both entertaining and somber. Although this may be foreshadowing her choosing to cheat on her lover when he refuses to have a child with her, I kind of saw that she was trapped in the limited time she has to bear a child. This being her ultimate goal, motivates her to act on her own as a woman with no limitations. In the end, her story towards this goal best exemplifies a story that is both comedic and subtly tragic.

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