Une femme est une femme (A Woman is a Woman)
January 1, 2004
Jean-Luc Godard’s Une femme est une femme (1961) is a playful battle of the sexes. It pushes the musical genre far out into exciting new directions that still seem ahead of its time. Angela (Karina) is an exotic dancer who wants to have a child with her lover, Emile (Braily). He’s not interested and so she finds herself attracted to his best friend, Alfred (Belmondo).
Music plays constantly giving the film a natural rhythm all its own. Characters don’t really sing per se, but when one of them (Angela) does, Godard cuts the music every time she starts singing and then starts it up again once she stops. In one scene, Alfred and another man trade insults across a busy street and each exchange is accompanied with a short, sharp blast of music like punctuation. Godard does this again when Angela and Emile argue in their apartment.
Godard’s film adheres to a vibrant primary colour scheme. Angela is first shown walking in the drab, plain looking streets with a bright red umbrella, which matches her boots. Godard constantly plays with colour throughout the Une femme est une femme. When Angela performs her strip tease at the club where she works, Godard bathes her face in a blue filter and then a purple one with a bright red backdrop. Her character is bursting with energy and vitality. This is represented by the bright red clothes that she always wears. In contrast, Emile wears a blue suit that seems to represent convention and a restrictive, conservative nature. In their apartment, even the clothes pins are red and blue and on the dining room table are yellow flowers.
The film has real fun, playful attitude and is very self-reflexive. Characters bow and talk directly to the camera. At one point, Angela quotes legendary choreographer Bob Fosse and then she and Alfred pose for several dance moves. During one scene, Belmondo name drops A bout de souffle (1960), another film he did with Godard. Jules et Jim (1962) is also referenced, which was made by another French New Wave auteur, Francois Truffaut.
Yet, for all its obvious stylization, Godard shoots his movie realistically, utilizing a lot of actual locations and shooting on city streets and in cafes with hidden cameras. He has said that Une femme est une femme was a “neorealist musical.” While he does shoot it in colour and in CinemaScope (his previous efforts where shot in black and white and with hand-held cameras), he does try to infuse bits of realism here and there.
The booklet that comes with the DVD features an excellent essay by Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman and two interviews with Jean-Luc Godard from the French magazine, L’Express.
“Charlotte et Veronique” is Godard’s first short film that he made in 1957 while he was a film critic for Cahiers du Cinema. The film stars Jean-Claude Brialy, Anne Colette and Nicole Berger and involves a man persistently trying to hit on a woman and then he proceeds to ask out her roommate.
The “Publicite” section features a black and white stills gallery and a small behind-the-scenes gallery of Godard making the movie. There is also a nice collection of posters from all over the world and a promotional recording from the 1960s that runs almost 30 minutes. There is also a theatrical trailer.
“Qui Etes-Vous Anna Karina?” is an interview with the actress that originally aired on French television in April 1966. She talks about how she started out, moving from the country to the big city to become a model. People who worked with her in the past, including Brialy, are also interviewed with stills from her movies. Karina comes across as charming as she does in the movie.
Une femme est une femme is Godard at his most playful and is a delight to watch. The film, like its characters, is bursting with youthful energy and innovation. Criterion has assembled a stunning print that looks as good as it must have the day it debuted. There are also a good collection of extras that keep in style and tone with the movie.