That period known as the ’60s is one of the richest in world cinema, but it can also be condensed as a single name. Not since D.W. Griffith was knocking out a weekly two-reeler at the Biograph studio on 14th Street had there been anything to equal the 15-feature run that Jean-Luc Godard began with Breathless (1960) and ended, still accelerating, in the cataclysm of Weekend (1967). Masculin Féminin documents a world of jukeboxes, pinball machines, and girls in white go-go boots—as well as the shabby cafés and discotheques frequented by two 20-year-olds, the serious young Communist Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and the aspiring yé-yé singer Madeleine (actual yé-yé star Chantal Goya). There is a narrative: Paul meets Madeleine, then moves in with her and her two girlfriends; Madeleine cuts a record that goes to No. 6 in Japan and gets pregnant. But mainly the movie is a succession of what Godard calls “precise facts”—overheard conversations, recurring gunshots, a scene cribbed from LeRoi Jones’s Dutchman, references to “Mr. Bob Dylan,” a plug for Pierrot le Fou. Protesting the war in Vietnam is a given. Everyone spends a lot of time talking—or rather, interviewing each other—about sex. In the movie’s most celebrated sequence, Paul, Madeleine, and Madeleine’s friends attend a Swedish sex film (a parody of The Silence that Godard shot to justify Masculin Féminin as an international co-pro). “This wasn’t the film that we wanted to make, or more secretly, this wasn’t the film we wanted to live,” Paul muses—articulating the exact premise of New Wave cinema and ’60s cinephilia.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 27, 2005