Une Femme Est Une Femme (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961)


In this comic tale loosely tied together by the desire of a woman to have a baby, Jean-Luc Godard spends eighty minutes bombarding us with visual gags, exaggerated petty fall-outs between a couple in their apartment, and funky music set to the streets of Paris. It is ultimately a stage created for Miss Karina, who Godard loved so dearly, to exhibit her talents and act all cute. She works in the sweetest strip club that is just about conceivable: the women sing and the men sit quite respectfully and drink coffee whilst watching. But at night she returns home to the love of her life and they humorously bicker and play out little banter-shows for the audience (namely, us, who are recognised directly by looks into the camera). She burns the steak for dinner when he would have preferred fish, but rare meat at a minimum. He rides around the lounge on a bike when she talks. She tosses eggs in the air and talks on the phone whilst we wait for them to descend again. They both play a game with books where they block out words in the titles to communicate with one another. Her motherly instinct is strong, and she’s so desirous of a child that she resorts to stuffing pillows up her jumper so her mirror image at least appears like she’s pregnant. She sees the elderly people outside and wants a baby even more. But he’s not interested, and the feather light dispute continues as they fool around.

In the end, they both cheat with other people out of frustration (if that emotion is possible in this film), though she confesses and apologises whilst he doesn’t. The difference is also that he goes with a prostitute, and she goes with a loving friend. This latter man, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo from Breathless, is the Godardian type that writes down everything he does in a notebook, and charms Karina’s character by taking her for a drink and playing her a Charles Aznavour record on the jukebox. He even bangs his head against the wall to prove his love for her.

This is all relatively amusing, but despite its light-hearted pretense, Une Femme does seem to want to say something about relationships and women that is somehow lost in the humour. The intent is clearly there in the sincerity of parts of the script, but, in comparison to other Godard films like Le Mepris and Vivre Sa Vie, its message is a lot less clear. Enjoy the gags while they last, but remember Godard’s best work, at this point in his career, was undoubtedly still to come.

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