Masculin Fminin
dir. Godard
Opens Fri May 20
Cinema 21

It's 1966. Cute hair and tumescent ideals are the norm, Vietnam is exploding, and the sexual revolution is sprouting. And filmmakers are experimenting with new ways of expanding the medium, abandoning traditional narrative structure in favor of more complex political and psychological agendas. In Masculin Féminin--1966's classic of the French New Wave movement--Jean-Luc Godard says a big "fuck you" to plot, focusing instead on character interaction, and what these interactions reveal (and fail to reveal) about human nature.

Masculin Féminin is presented as a series of scenes--15 in total, and each utterly mundane, at least on the surface. A young man with hastily formed political ideas falls in love with a girl. They date. They fight. It's charming and depressing.

Paul and Madeleine Jean-Pierre Léaud and one-time pop sensation Chantal Goya, respectively) enter into a relationship based on mutual incomprehension. They can neither understand nor reach each other; Paul spends much of the film staring hungrily at Madeleine, like he's searching for any access to her inner life, while she remains perfectly impenetrable. This frustrating stasis is superimposed over a backdrop of random, gruesome violence: A woman shoots up a subway train; a man borrows a match from Paul then uses it to set himself on fire. Paul and Madeleine are unfazed by the violence unfolding around them--like most of us, these "children of McDonald's and Marx" (as Godard describes them) keep right on enacting their own tedious dramas, creating meaning for themselves in a chaotic and unpredictable world.

With that knack the French have for making the rest of the world look like uncouth, immature assholes, Masculin Féminin tackles depressing topics without actually being depressing. (Who but Godard could take a film about the impossibility of human connection and make it fun?) The whole soul-crushing mess is so entertaining, and wrapped up so stylishly in youthful enthusiasm, that it's impossible not to love.