A Woman Is a Woman: Revisiting Godard's Vision of Romantic Warfare

Few works of cinema are as gleefully alive as Jean-Luc Godard's A Woman Is a Woman, made when the conventions of storytelling were fast eroding. Not so much a story as a freewheeling string of gags, puns, and set pieces, the film concerns the fallout after Émile (Brialy) tells his stripper girlfriend, Angela (Karina), that he's not interested in having a baby with her but that she's perfectly welcome to have one with his buddy Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo). This being a Godard film, the situation is not a setup for realistic psychological drama but rather a pretext for expressively depicting the ways in which couples fight, make up, and fight again—often all within a matter of minutes. One of Godard's funniest pictures, the film rattles off gag after gag with a machine-gun frequency that recalls the screwballs the director worshipped, a frequency that would leave contemporary comedies in the dust. A bit in which Angela asks Émile what he wants for dinner, only to reveal that she finished cooking it a while ago, is a particularly sharp battle-of-the-sexes exchange that feels plucked right out of His Girl Friday. Despite the gender frostiness, the tender photography of Angela's striptease sequences reveals the deep love that Godard felt for Karina, his then-new bride. Godard's vision of romantic warfare is sometimes a bitter one, but riding beneath the hostility is a persistent undercurrent of passion.

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