Masculin Femenin – FELIX, Victor

Masculin Femenin was certainly one of the more interesting films we have seen in class. I say interesting because the film isn’t what I would usually watch outside of class, nor would it even be recommended to me by my peers. It is the first time I have heard of Jean Luc Godard and it is my opinion that the film provides a suitable introduction to his range of works. I had no starting point to work on in this film except that the last fully French film I have seen is Amelie.
The film deals with subjects ranging from French youth culture, to the evils of industrialism, to gender roles and stereotypes, and freedom and exemption. Through the various shenanigans the young group participates in, the viewer gets more and more immersed into the Zeitgeist Godard wants to portray. Central to all of this is the character of Paul: his romantic advances, his stand on the world’s status quo, and his viewpoints on the gender, politics, and reform.
Firstly, the film has a lot to say about the differences between men and women, particularly that of the youth. Men are frank and blunt while women are dodgy and purposively mysterious, they are only frank with themselves (as shown when Madeleine reveals she keeps a diary with all of her thoughts). Men are interested in everything while committed to nothing, while women find importance in the smallest of superficialities. Men have a hard time expressing themselves while women have no problem at all: they express themselves from their partiality in fashion, hairstyle, music, and choice of peers or partners. Also, it is said in the film that “a man can control his ideas which are nothing, but not his emotions which are everything”. Lastly, it is also shown that men concern themselves with politics, while women are seen to be naïve on the subject.
This dichotomy is explored when it is extended to older men and women. We see in the café between the husband and wife and in the scene in the train with the prostitute and the two French-Africans, that with age comes different gender perspectives. It is more apparent, here, that men look down on women, and that those that are older look at the youth with disdain and condescension. It is also implied in the film that when people get older, they either lose their freedom or their sense of freedom is redefined.
Although the dichotomy is defined in the film, it isn’t rigidly followed per se. There are ironies in these stereotypes: although men may know more about the world around them than women, it is easy to see that men are equally as fanciful, in that Paul and his friend quickly recognize threats to their masculinity, and they are easily swayed by beautiful women. Although women don’t follow politics, they unwittingly participate in politics themselves, except it is that of social and emotional politics and it is amongst their group of peers.
It is said that the film is “the child of Marx and Coca-Cola”. The statement resonates, again, the dichotomy of the male and female, wherein the man is an agent of Communism and in extension collectivism in a classless society, while women personify Coca-Cola, the symbol of consumerism and pop culture. You can equate this to the two central characters, Paul and Madeleine: Paul is outspoken, fresh out of military service, and disenchanted from contemporary society, while Madeleine is a singer, a fashion icon, and a symbol for the developing consumerist society. This is also reinforced when the audience later finds out that Madeleine is pregnant (the literal child of Marx and Coca-Cola). The abortion of this baby is symbolic, possibly suggesting that Marx and Coca-Cola are incompatible, if not mutually exclusive.
In its entirety, the film challenges the general notions of gender, industrialism, and freedom. In between scenes, however, Masculin Femenin cleverly portrays the nuances and niceties of youth culture, the interaction between the individual and the world around him, and the repercussions of participating in a relationship. The film comes across as a documentary, actually, and this is built on by it monochromatic delivery and Godard’s use of genuine French youth interaction. Although it isn’t a film I would go out of my way to watch again, it is certainly something that would be gratifying and wonderful when revisited.