A WOMAN IS A WOMAN
Review by Ed Nguyen
Anna Karina, Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean-Paul Belmondo
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Audio: French 1.0
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Features: Early short film, 1966 interview excerpts, publicity gallery, audio recording, booklet
Length: 84 minutes
Release Date: June 22, 2004
me, sir, but would you like to get this young lady pregnant?"
directors are generally credited with popularizing the French New Wave during
the late 1950's. One was François
Truffaut with Les Quatre Cents Coups (The
400 Blows, 1959). The other was
maverick filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard with Breathless
(1959). Godard was not quite the
most innovative of the New Wave directors (that honor must go to Alain Resnais
for Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last
Year at Marienbad), but Godard was certainly the most controversial and the
most willing to challenge any movie-making convention.
Godard's early films were truly bold and truly daring, sometimes utterly
ignoring the time-honored conventions of film structure to re-invent the
cinematic language itself as Godard saw fit for his current projects.
for example, Godard's Une Femme est une
femme (A Woman is a Woman, 1961).
Following upon the heels of Godard's Le
petit soldat, which initially had been banned outright in France for its
political content concerning the Algerian War, A
Woman is a Woman was Godard's re-interpretation of the Hollywood musical. While the film generally followed the narrative pattern and
structure of a musical, it was in actuality not really a musical at all.
Rather it was, to paraphrase Godard himself, "the idea of a
took the whimsical fantasy world of the musical and envisioned it through the
stylizations of cinéma vérité. Working
without a pre-established script, he shot his scenes along the streets,
sometimes with hidden cameras to capture the reactions of real pedestrians.
Even apartment scenes were filmed on a set that was an exact replication
of an actual apartment (complete with ceiling and locking doors).
As for the soundtrack, Godard utterly dissected it, recording for the
first time ever in direct sound with ambient background noise.
Interspersed randomly between the lines of dialogue were bursts and fits
of music, sometimes reactionary to the dialogue, sometimes setting a certain
tone for the overall scene. Many
times, actors seemed almost on the verge of bursting out into song, but of
course, they never did. The
frequent bursts of music established an almost comical tone to the film (Godard
had in fact even employed a cartoonist to interpret some scenes in gag form for
surprisingly, the main story centered around a young dancer who dreams of
starring in a musical comedy, Angéla (Karina).
She is, in fact, the only character who sings a song in the entire film
(all the other "numbers" are mostly incidental music, heard either
from radio, jukebox, or even a soccer broadcast). Angéla's song itself is practically an after-thought, as she
is barely audible, with the visual aspects of her performance overwhelming the
actual lyrical content of the song.
in short, is a good summarization of the film's tone - Godard was attempting to
channel the vibrancy and essence of a musical into a non-musical.
He infused a great deal of visual creativity into his film and maintained
a strong sense of energy and motion through his rapid editing, cross-cutting,
and rather schizophrenic soundtrack. The
result was an exciting, if sometimes chaotic, smorgasbord of sound and images.
Woman is a Woman
even begins with flashing color globes reminiscent of neon signs and Broadway
strobe lights. But then, we move to
the central conflict in the tale - Angéla is filled with a sudden desire to
bear a child. When Emile (Brialy),
her current boyfriend, proves reluctant to participate in any baby-making, Angéla
searches for her solution in another man, Alfred (Belmondo), who is
coincidentally Emile's best friend. It
is, in fact, Emile's very own idea, as he does not feel Angéla will carry out
her bluff. Some sexual tension
eventually arise within this menage à
trois, but in the end, all's well that ends well, Angéla and Emile are back
together, and Angéla gets her wish after all.
essential story is thus quite simple and uncomplicated.
The film's true innovation comes from Godard's directorial style.
Using an improvisational style that he likened to automatic writing,
Godard shot the film quickly over a matter of weeks with only a film treatment
and without a single word of written dialogue.
Godard wanted "everything to be constantly unstable."
so, the dialogue is filled with unexpected twists and turns.
A goofy disagreement between Angéla and Emile disintegrates into a
contest to see who can roll their R's better.
Another argument between the couple is communicated as the two compare
the titles of various books lying about the apartment to one another.
Angéla settles upon a pantomime contest between Emile and Alfred to
determine who will get to take her out for the evening.
film does not take itself too seriously, either, and seems to acknowledge a
self-awareness of its own staged entertainment. There are frequent allusions to other New Wave films, such as
Shoot the Piano Player, Godard's own Breathless,
and Jules et Jim. The
characters wink at the audience and even address us several times, as though to
suggest that the borders between where the theater ends and where life begins is
not so distinct. Perhaps this was
Godard's intention in his contradictory quest to create his "neorealist
Woman is a Woman
stars Anna Karina in her breakthrough performance.
As Angéla, a young and refreshing Karina practically bubbles over with
cuteness. She provides much of the
life and allure of the film; when the film was shown at the Berlin Film
Festival, Karina was even honored with a special award for most promising young
Woman is a Woman would jumpstart her budding acting career, during which she
would star in several more Godard films and establish herself as one of the most
popular French actresses of the 1960's (not to mention Godard's eventual wife).
Woman is a Woman
not only firmly established Godard's reputation as a major French director but
also spotlighted his willingness to find new solutions to old cinematic
conventions. Over forty years since helping to usher in the New Wave,
Godard is still creating new films. He
has proven to be the one of the most prolific and durable of the New Wave
directors. Let us hope that he
still has the vision to bring fresh ideas into the cinematic world for years to
Woman is a Woman
is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format.
The picture quality is generally quite sharp and colorful, as might be
expected for a "musical." The
film does occasionally show its age, though, with some specks, age spots and
some fluctuation of the color emulsion here and there.
also seems to have deliberately aimed for a natural, non-glossy look.
There is occasional lens flare appearing from time to time (from
on/off-camera light sources). The rapid editing and a constantly-moving camera lend an aura
of spontaneity to the film but can be exhausting at times.
film's audio is all over the place, and Godard is not afraid to ignore the rules
of soundtrack conventions. During
the early course of the film, the soundtrack alternately jumps between ambience
noise (traffic, crowds, footsteps, etc), silence, random dialogue, and brief
clips of music or song. No sound is
allowed to linger for more than a few seconds at a time, which may be somewhat
disorienting to the listener. The
film is clearly an exercise in Godard's disdain for post-dubbing or other
measures used to clean up the soundtrack.
A Woman is a Woman, the sound was
regularly recorded on the streets, so background noise does at times obscure the
dialogue (happily, not a problem with subtitles turned on).
This "flaw" nevertheless coincided with Godard's stress upon
the reality and natural texture of the scenes, and if the dialogue was
occasionally drowned out, then so be it. Ironically,
this haphazard style suits the film well and infuses it with energy and
vitality. I should point out however that the musical excerpts are
occasionally mixed significantly louder than the dialogue, which may leave some
listeners struggling to find a happy balance.
film's musical score was written by Michel Legrand. This composer should be familiar to fans of French cinema, as
he has contributed to many New Wave films, perhaps most famously Les Parapluies
de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of
a final note, the audio is in French monaural with subtitles, but since a great
deal of the French dialogue is colloquial, it doesn't always translate quite
readily into English. This can be
seen in a number of scenes, including the play-on-words that concludes the film:
je suis une femme."
evidently had a bit of fun designing the presentation of this DVD.
The menu screens emulate a sort of Broadway spotlight glitter, supported
by peppy French bar tunes sung in the background.
All the extras can be found in the section entitled "Lights, Camera,
most notable feature is Charlotte et Véronique,
or Tous les garcons s'appellent Patrick
(All Boys are Called Patrick), a short
film (21 min.) by Godard from 1957. Written
by fellow New Wave director Eric Rohmer and shot by Godard while he was still a
critic for the film journal cahiers du cinéma,
this short film starred Jean-Claude Brialy, Anne Colette, and Nicole Berger.
It focused upon a day in the life of two young French women who are
roommates. Each meets a persistent
but friendly man in the park named Patrick.
Only later, after they compare their Patricks (and see him with another
woman) do they realize they have both encountered the same pick-up artist.
The short film's fast pacing (rapid editing and progressively sped-up
projection speed) and musical backdrop can almost be seen as a test run for
Godard's later "musical" efforts, including A Woman is a Woman.
etes-vous Anna Karina?
(13 min.) offers interview excerpts from an April 23, 1966 television broadcast. Focusing mainly on Anna Karina, these clips describe Karina's
initial arrival in Paris, her early modeling career, and her start in the
cinema. We also see Karina in some
moments of playfulness, whether putting around in mini-golf or relaxing with A
Woman is a Woman co-star Brialy.
there is a promotional section with numerous stills and posters.
A photo gallery (60 photographs) shows the stars on the set during
production. Behind the scenes (10)
shows Godard on the set as well. The
international posters (39) section contains publicity artwork from the 1960's to
the recent 2003 American re-release of the film.
promotional section is rounded out by a provocative trailer that includes
narration from Godard himself.
is an interesting promotional audio recording (33 min.) included on the disc.
Narrated by Godard, it describes the film and Godard's theory behind the
film's interpretation of the relationship between cinema and music.
This audio recording was originally released on a small pressing of
10" vinyl records. Criterion
presents it here accompanied by a visual burst of kaleidoscopic colors and
inventively-displayed English translation in red, white, and blue hues.
Contained within the recording is a more musical version of the song that
Karina sings in the film as well as numerous sound clips from the film.
there is the fantastic 24-page booklet included with this DVD.
It contains a new essay by film critic J. Hoberman as well as interview
excerpts from 1961 with Godard and Coutard about the film.
Interspersed among the many pages of text are numerous snapshots and
publicity stills from the film. The
overall design of the booklet matches the 60's-chic design of the DVD's menu
screens (and the audio recording visualizations, too), so overall this is a
fairly attractive booklet.