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Legacy Review

A Woman Is a Woman (1961)

Godard’s third feature (second released) is hailed as an “homage” to Hollywood musicals, but I read it more as a condescending parody. Godard spends the first half of the movie playing with the artifice of musicals, toggling an overbearing orchestral score off and on at jarring cadences and constructing an utterly fantastical, movie-logic strip club where the dancers casually drop in like they’re visiting a cafe.

Other witty touches: Camera angles at the burlesque show carefully obscure nudity, only for Godard to casually show a naked woman in the background in a changing room a scene later. The characters often seem on the verge of breaking out into song due to rhythmic conversation and scoring, but never do.

It’s all certainly clever. But I wasn’t having much fun. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right headspace, but it came across as smarmy, especially the meta-jokes (“Hey, go see Breathless!”).

Things didn’t get any better for me once the story proper started. The narrative circles around romantic comedy and love triangle tropes, but never gets farther than a woman saying “I want a baby!” over and over, and the man saying “No. I’m going out. Let someone else impregnate you.” over and over. The emotional thrust is minimal; the dialogue never more than funny-ish.

Perhaps Godard is just playing a trick on me and I’m too dumb or detached from context to parse it all out. Certainly there’s something about the desexualized emphasis on “having a baby” feels like a critique of censorship, and the intermingling of realism and theatricality as a cinematic deconstruction, but it all feels conceptually half-baked.

On the flip side of the equation is that the movie is visually bracing enough for me to actually give it a gentle recommendation to curious cinephiles who derive pleasure from such things. There’s some riveting color compositions, some breathtaking indoor panning shots, and some blocking so graceful it makes people walking feel like true choreography.

I also found myself a little more into the movie’s tone and rhythm by the last fifteen minutes even as not much of note really happened. It certainly helps that these kids are far cooler and more stylish than anyone I ever hung out with, so I didn’t mind spending time with them.

And I probably don’t need to point out that prime Anna Karina is first-order eye candy, which certainly doesn’t hurt the film, even if her character is flat and stupid.

So, in all, it’s a mixed bag that didn’t quite click with me, but not without artistry or charm.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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