A Woman Is A Woman

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A Woman Is A Woman

Working off the momentum of Breathless and the then-unreleased Le Petit Soldat, Jean-Luc Godard plunged into what's arguably his most frivolous film, the quasi-radical 1961 pastiche A Woman Is A Woman. Pitched as "a neorealist musical... a contradiction in terms," the film stars Anna Karina as a stripper who wants to be impregnated immediately, by either her live-in boyfriend Jean-Claude Brialy or their mutual friend Jean-Paul Belmondo. The story goes nowhere and the dialogue is mostly improvised, but A Woman Is A Woman conducts a clinic in the potential of post-production. On-set and off, Godard seems intent on breaking as many rules as he can, just because he can.

Godard draws on a lush Michel Legrand score, then chops it into pieces, slipping fragments between lines of dialogue as though the dialogue consisted of song lyrics. In one scene, Godard drops all sound from the soundtrack except for the dialogue track and traffic noise; in another, he uses an innocuous conversation between two women as accompaniment for unrelated (but gorgeous) documentary footage of Paris street life. Characters address the camera directly, make references to other films by Godard and his New Wave compatriot François Truffaut, and have casual discussions about artistic principles and dramatic construction, occasionally against a background of spinning circles that look like film reels. Karina changes clothes in the space of a single edit, stops the film to listen to a Charles Aznavour song, and, in the most memorable scene, carries on an argument without talking, by holding up a series of book jackets that say what she means.

There are diminishing returns to all this goofing around, as A Woman Is A Woman eventually devolves into scene after scene of Karina's vain pouting. But the wild, why-the-hell-not experimentation is mostly invigorating, and suffused with a puckish wit that Godard only sprinkled across his subsequent work. A Woman Is A Woman plays like the product of a man still drunk on cinema, showing off his encyclopedic knowledge of the form by betraying all of its principles. Godard translates his own perception of life as one long movie, complete with sudden music cues, random pans, and dramatically frozen moments. Now as then, A Woman Is A Woman isn't a new way of seeing cinema, but a new way of seeing everything.