Research Paper: Goddard's Masculin Feminin

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¶ … Goddard's Masculin Feminin

As a prominent and influential part of "La Nouvelle Vague" or "The New Wave," Jean-Luc Godard has tried to depict, in'MasculinFeminin', the political and social youth counter-culture that was present and developing in the 1960s in the ideal way as the medium of cinema allowed a perfect combination of contemporary perception and original wit of that time.

Godard was an enemy of the French cinema's "Tradition of Quality," which he believed destroyed creativity and growth as it "emphasized craft over innovation, privileged established directors over new directors, and preferred the great works of the past to experimentation" (Grant, 2007). Because of this belief, Godard's films contain all those elements that defied the established literary narrative; they focused on the idea of psychological realism instead of poetic realism, as Aurenche's and Bost's did (Truffaut, 1954).

'MasculinFeminin' is about 21-year-old Paul, an idealist who has just returned home to France from taking part in the Vietnam War, and Madeleine Zimmer, a young woman with her sights set on being the next greatest pop singer. These two characters are like water and oil and yet, they are immediately attracted to each other and a story riddled with hidden meanings and many facets of the prevailing social and political situation, as shown through various scenes and strategic shooting, is created.Basically, the film embodies a "struggle for means of expression" (Godard, 1972).

Paul and Madeleine become symbolic in their personalities, ambitions and how they interact with one another.Near the beginning of the film, a simple dialogue encapsulates the vast differences in thinking and being between Paul and Madeleine. Paul's reply to the question "What is the center of your world?" is "love" while Madeleine believes herself to be the answer. Where Paul is a restless radical who listens to Bach and is pained by the overwhelming acceptance and even preference of American norms as part of French culture, Madeleine is very much part of the popular culture quickly replacing traditional values. Godard has, thus, although rather simplistically, summed up the two factions or fragments of the French youth culturein the mid-60s: those idealists opposed to Americanism and the conformists who embraced it.

Godard identifies greatly with the Marxist ideas of capitalist and coined the term "Cinemarxist" for such films that portrayed the eternal battle between the bourgeois and the proletariat. For this purpose, perhaps, Godard's characterization of Paul was of an anti-bourgeoisie and, to an extent, also anti-American. At a particular point in the film, Paul exclaims "U.S., go home!" revealing Paul's opinion of America as an invader, echoing Godard's reference to the LeRoi Jones's "Dutchman," which gives a sense of protest against U.S. involvement in Vietnam on the basis of race.

Paul is cynical of popular culture as an "American export" that has dulled the mind of the youth as it inspires no revolution or greater philosophical thinking and supports consumerism by creating "children of Marx and Coca-Cola," the title of one of the 15 vignettes that make up this film.

Godard has managed to capture the ignorant side of the youth -- maybe even all of humanity- along with the concerned informed side, showing the disparity and variance in attitudes towards society that the coming together of cultures and increasing globalization has instigated, through the matter of war. Paul has concerned himself with the issues of the world as shown in his off-screen question in a bookstore, heard over the chatter of the gathered crowd: "Do you know that a war is going on between the Iraqis and the Kurds?" In direct contrast to this, is the scene where Paul is interviewing Elsa at Miss 19 for a magazine survey and asks about the ongoing war which she appears to be unaware of.

However, it is not simply American hegemony but overall tyranny that the film (through Paul) raises a voice against. Hitler, Stalin and the U.S. President of that time, Lyndon Johnson deserved death, according to Paul, reiterating the sentiments against dictators rather than specific personalities as Stalin and Hitler were both already dead. Bob Dylan was mentioned as a Vietnik -- a war protester to whom pro-Russian bias was attached due to the ignorance of Paul and his friend and fellow idealist, Robert- which Godard may have used to demonstrate that this youth, filled with radical ideas and rebellion, was not always completely familiar and informed of the world.

The ideas presented in this film fit AsgerJorn's definition of art that usesa "choice between indifference and impossibility" (Birtwistle, 1986). While the followers and supporters of 'indifference' are the followers and supporters of popular culture, like Madeleine and her friends, the impossibility seems to be that Paul and Robert's great and ambitious rebellion against the popular culture and conforming to it, and sensitivity to the changing world around them is offset by their helplessness or perhaps inability to put these ideas into actions of any effectual value, as shown by their juvenile and simple acts of vandalizing buildings and vehicles with anti-commercialism slogans or writing speeches and poetry.

Madeleine's indifference due to her association with popular or Americanized culture is shown in various places and can be taken to mean multiple kinds of indifference; indifference to the preservation of traditional values, indifference to the plight of society or generally and possibly aptly, indifference to anything at all except her own self. This is demonstrated in the scene where Paul proposes to Madeleine and she brushes him off as she is late for a recording and in the closing scene, after Paul's death, where the policeman asks about her plans for the fetus to which she impassively refers to using curtain rods. The question of abortion itself is a controversial topic and in the mid-1960s to even mention it so nonchalantly was a negation of all the middle-class values that the old culture was now losing to the prevailing popular culture. Her colleague, Elsa at Miss 19's support of American culture and her ignorance of many of the situations occurring and changing within the world seem to be linked.

The questions contained in the Miss 19 interview and Elsa's hesitance to respond and evasion of answering Paul up to the point where she refuses to think and speak, fearing that she will get confused, are another stab at America's influence on French youth. The young should be open to different ideas and should speak easily and freely but the influence of American pop culture seems to have cancelled this out, according to Godard, and he had his doubts about the future of France.

The final dig at how the capitalist way of living may as well be the death of the youth and traditional culture is implied through Paul's 'suicide'.He dies while trying to take photos of his newly acquired private apartment from the balcony; it may be that his disgust at being unpredictably drafted in by materialism created a good enough motive for suicide, if indeed he did choose to end his life. Paul's death was rather mysterious, essentially, and could lead each analyst down a different path.

Nonetheless, Godard recognized and encapsulated the mixing of impossibility with indifference and the paradox it presented in various scenes with Paul: his irritated and underwhelmed reaction to a shooting in the street, his impassivity at a man stabbing himself mere feet away, his choice of work for a magazine rather than a factory, even the surveys that he carried out sounded like consumer research reports. A man who repeatedly declared his despair for the wrecking of French culture by the impositions of another embodies this paradox by embracing that which he denounces so. In a way, Godard sees and characterizes Paul as he views himself. In Paul's words, "A philosopher is a man who pits his awareness against opinion. To be aware is to be open to the world." Godard does not believe in the eradication of pop culture but is against the cultural stagnation or regression it seems to bring about so by involving the two sides of the prevalent philosophies (symbolized by Paul and Madeleine) in a love story, Godard seems to support the idea of a marriage between these ways of thinking to lead to navigation and empowerment of culture as a whole.

'MasculinFeminin', as the title suggests, also serves as a work on the never-ending battle of sexes. The tile itself raised many questions and faced multiple edits, each version creating a different meaning altogether out of the same two words. 'Masculine, Feminine' faced criticism on the basis of sexism as the comma implied that women followed men, while by the use of 'Masculine/Feminine', Godard suggested the greater divisibility of men as compared to the complex females. 'Masculin-Feminin' put both sexes on a more equal ground but put forth the idea that females were a sort of extension of their gender counterparts. The space between the chosen or rather most recognized title of 'MasculinFeminin' literalized the differences between the two sexes, the gender gap in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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