Friday, August 21, 2009

Une femme mariée

Une femme mariée: Suite de fragments d'un film tourné en 1964 (A Married Woman), 1964
Dir: Jean-Luc Godard
August 20, 2009

Godard has turned the tables in this film, one of the least seen of his earlyish output, where before he had restless men skulking about Paris, here he has a wandering married woman moving between her pilot husband and her actor lover, making promises and professing love to both but unable to choose until she is forced to.

Godard gives us little vignettes (these "fragments of a film") of Charlotte (Macha Méril) lounging about with her two lovers (Bernard Noël and Philippe Leroy), some 30 seconds long, some ten minutes, all of them fading to black and then fading back in. Lots of close-ups; many of them of Charlotte's legs and torso, with hands all over her. Some of these hands have a ring on them, some of them do not. Godard himself narrates at points, in his fashion, and of course there are many references to the cinematic and literary figures who have influenced his work. These little pieces really have no narrative flow, but they work in their own way, but later on Godard moves on to a series of documentary (or cinéma vérité, I guess) style interviews with the husband, his young son, and film-maker Roger Leenhardt, which are broken up by Godard's typically infuriating title cards, and the whole series just bust up any type of flow the film might have had. I'm sure this is exactly what Godard wanted though. In another scene at a pool, Charlotte overhears two girls talking (about girl things, ya' know), where Godard again busts out his voice-over and the text on film, which is just not my jambox. He also uses some negatives here too. I can't really say for sure if these things truly show my dislike for most of post-modern cinema, but all I know is that it seems slightly forced. I know it works for others, clearly, but there is just something about it that niggles me. Sometimes I want to use the word pompous, but I hate using that word when applied to film. Why would anyone want to make a film that no one wants to see, or is going to be immediately miffed by? Godard is not pompous, in my opinion, just...flamboyant sometimes, I guess. There is one shot however, where Charlotte is driving in a convertible with the actor, where she is sitting really low in her seat trying to not be seen (hiding from who though?). The camera is right behind the car as they drive along the Seine, with the Eiffel Tower filling up half the frame and gradually getting bigger as they skid along. It's pretty awesome.

Trying to dig out what Godard is saying about love, or anything for that matter, can sometimes be a chore, and here it is no different. Love is just a charade; a word we use to justify our relationships? Or maybe she really does love both of them. Charlotte certainly throws "love" around a lot, but it's what the men she's with want to hear. It's her way of keeping them happy as she tries to figure herself out. Her roaming nature seems quite well expressed by her travel in Paris, where she changes taxis frequently, as if trying to hide her actions from suspicious eyes. As the film moves along, she indulges in some verbose soliloquies about herself and her feelings ("I have no will power.") Love, while seeming like a big part of the film at first, by the end seems just a pretext.

I think the more interesting thing about the film is that instead of a straightforward story about adultery, which this can seem like, it puts a microscope on the consumer culture of the 60s. Like the way Godard is interested in the way that cinema shapes our lives, here he puts forward the way in which the media and popular culture influence Charlotte and her actions. It seems strange at first viewing, when you see all of the advertisements, magazines, record sleeves and films stream through, as if randomly, but it's all very deliberate, as is the way she reacts to them, like her tedious talks and thoughts about boobs and bras ("perfect bust"). All of this takes us back to the earlier vignettes, where fetishistic images of her body remind us of the advertisements that are constantly being bombarded at Charlotte.

It's difficult to say if all of those things truly inform all of Charlotte's actions, but they certainly tell us a lot about what it is like to live in this modern age. While I clearly have problems with Godard's...presentation in some of his films, it is impossible to watch one of his films and not know that he is buzzing with ideas, like a fragmented narrative to coincide with a fragmented life. His study of modern life, the restless struggle we all face, is felt in a melancholy undertone that is in a lot of his films, and I think is the greatest thing he ever achieved. Une femme mariée clearly sets out to do what it wants to, which is show us what it must have been like for a young French woman to be alive in the summer of 1964.

a married woman

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