“We are the children of Marx and Coca-Cola,” a character remarks in Masculin Féminin. This isn’t the character’s sentiment per se; it is, in actuality, the sentiment of writer/director Jean-Luc Godard, and he doesn’t want to mention it passively. It is as though he wants the quote to be stamped on his grave, to be lauded as a visionary for generations to come. So who would have thought that, nearly fifty years later, the children of those children’s children would be the children of Tumblr and Starbucks, more likely to wonder aloud who the hell Marx is and why one should drink Coca-Cola when a five-dollar “coffee” awaits a few blocks down the road.
Godard’s attitudes have, of course, dated over the course of a half-century — but the way he expresses them, the way he captures 1960s youth, have not. To be a successful Godard film is certainly not easy. A director who can hardly suppress his love for bizarre sound manipulations (Masculin Féminin itself is often soundtracked by a single, cartoonish gun shot that seemingly comes out of nowhere) and teleprompter-ready intellectual speak, it doesn’t take much for a Godard project to go from zero to insufferably pretentious miles-per-hour in an instant.
But most of the time, Godard keeps the politically/intellectually minded atmosphere humorous and engaging, even if you can’t quite put your finger on why watching Jean-Pierre Léaud dive into a radically liberal speech is entrancing. The kiddos of Masculin Féminin, all in their late-teens/early 20s, spend most of their time smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee in stylish cafés around the city, delighting each other in their oh-so-adult conversations and escaping in movies they know they’re smarter than. All attractive, all high in their hopes, they regard sex as a breezy pastime, responsibilities a chore to be saved for later.
They act worldly, name-dropping Sartre whenever the time comes, but heaven knows they would be much more content swimming in each other’s cerebral coolness than actually do something with their lives. Leading lady Madeline Zimmer, portrayed by Chantal Goya, wants to become a yé-yé singer — but does she know that Sylvie Vartan and Françoise Hardy are one-in-a-million chanteuses hard to recreate?
Masculin Féminin is about everything while also being about nothing. It covers just about every topic found in the mind of a ‘60s-dwelling youth, but it knows that these are just fleeting thoughts, especially when considering most of the stuff happening internationally is the responsibility of the leader of the free world (whoever that is, a character might accidentally grunt). A café is perched just a block down the street and, last time they checked, they weren’t the leader of the free world.
The film doesn’t take itself seriously, and its actors are likable; New Wave staple Léaud is always fascinating to watch, and Goya, looking like a typical Anna Karina clone, enchants with her childlike smile and jet-black, Anna Wintour-reminiscent bob. Masculin Féminin is Godard at his most focused, his most audience oriented — it is a pleasure from start to finish, even if we don’t quite have a grip on what we just