Masculin Féminin

Masculin Féminin ★★★★

Ah, to be young, dumb, and full of cum-plete hatred for capitalism. One of the rare narrative Godard films that doesn't feel drawn from his personal experience, cinematic reference points, or politics, but rather combines his curiosity about France's burgeoning left-wing movement with a tender study of youthful folly, how the genuinely intense feelings of the young so often end up expressed as clumsy affectations, like how Paul flips his cigarettes into his mouth, or loudly snipes at movies he doesn't like, or tags left-wing slogans on random surfaces whenever he's frustrated. Maybe my favorite use of the ever-so-slightly stilted yet always a little wounded presence of Jean-Pierre Leaud, who lets his intense, too-wide-open eyes, constantly on alert yet often unsure what to do, fill every awkward silence with their nervous stares. The rhyming scenes near the film's beginning and end in which different pairs of boys and girls awkwardly flirt (the girls strategically evading the boy's sexual overtures while slyly mining them for personal details, the boys going out of their way to look worldly and cool by namedropping experiences and thinkers they've only just begun to engage with) may be the most generous thing Godard has ever done, as he lets his characters define themselves through their clumsy back-and-forths with very little editorializing to guide them. That might be what I find most remarkable about Masculin Feminin: it treats its protagonists respectfully despite how excitable and sometimes contradictory they are and how clearly their identities, welded together from a haphazard array of pop culture references and political rhetoric, are still in flux. "Times had changed. It was the age of James Bond and Vietnam" or, more famously, "This film could be called the children of Marx and Coca-cola." Either way, they're a generation defined by contradiction, shaped by capitalism even as they grow to despise it. Soon after this Godard would pick a side in that ideological fight, but here he embraces the paradox, and in the process allows the people in his kino eye's gaze to be as messy, incongruous, sincere, and sensitive as, well, actual people. Who'd have thought he had it in him?

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