Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Funny Face (1957), and more, many argued that it appeared as though Chazelle was so eager to please, he lost a lot of what made him such a unique cinematic voice in the first place.
A Woman Is a Woman operates similarly. References are also made enthusiastically and pretty meaninglessly. Cyd Charisse and Ernst Lubitsch are mentioned in casual conversation. Words like “Musical,” “Theater,” and “Sentimental” appear in large, pigmented letters as evocative transition slides in the opening credits. Booming orchestral sweeps unpredictably slip in and out of our ears as often as big, sloppy tears gush out of leading actress Anna Karina’s eyes.
But unlike Chazelle, who obviously intended to make something MGM might’ve circa 1949 with a modern twist, Godard dissects the various components we’ve come to easily recognize in classic musicals and ultimately subverts the genre entirely. It is about young stripper Angela’s (Karina) quest to get married and impregnated by her patient boyfriend Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy), with tempting love interruptions perpetuated by a friend who says he loves her (Jean-Paul Belmondo).
It’s all very Sandra Dee in its cuteness, Doris Day in its updated sexual attitudes, and Judy Garland in its ersatz brass. But Godard has a couple tricks up his sleeve to make the specific characteristics from the star vehicles of these actresses his own. Karina’s like Dee in her gamine charisma, but she’s also slightly more desperate, her pleas for motherhood coming across kind of childish and grating whereas Dee was usually comfortably likable. Passé sex talk is as prevalent as it was in Pillow Talk (1959), but instead of being presented with an acerbic lining, Godard makes it clear that these characters are so immature that they probably don’t even get the concept of foreplay. And the orchestral bursts and comedic flourishes that might be found in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) or Easter Parade (1948) are here too, but both are presented chintzily. Just when they come to fruition, they cut off abruptly.
Through these manipulations, Godard doesn’t just make us think about just how much the musical genre is formulated to trick us into teleporting atop a cloud of feel-good vibes. He also pushes us to realize that the young people so often depicted in these films are not at all true to what 20-somethings trying to figure out their lives are like in real life.
By finding his setting in humble downtown Paris and delineating these characters as they actually are – struggling adults who’re still children, essentially – the musical format suddenly doesn’t just seem like a tribute. It seems like a manifestation of all the high strung emotions one feels in their 20s. How every heartbreak, and every triumph, is such a powerful thing that you might as well break out into song when the timing’s right.
All the moves make sense. But because A Woman Is a Woman is sort of academic in the way it deconstructs the musical genre, it isn’t always as fun as it should be. Godard accidentally proves that formula, while calculated, can still be much easier to sit through than a cinematic quasi-essay. Plus, the movie’s not a musical: it has a single song-and-dance sequence (which is thoroughly charming) and overarchingly just copies the tone of the genre.
But Karina, Brialy, and Belmondo are all genial, and there’s something infectious about the way Godard so cheekily stages each scene. His previous two features, Breathless and Le Petit Soldat (both 1960), are much more substantial. But A Woman Is a Woman is an amusing curiosity anyway. B-
1 Hr., 23 Mins.
A Woman Is a Woman November 27, 2017
lmost every characteristic people couldn’t stand about last year’s La La Land can be found in Jean-Luc Godard’s A Woman Is a Woman (1961). Of all the complaints regarding the former film, the most frequently heard were cries that its director, Damien Chazelle, paid plenty homages and threw myriad winks at the Hollywood Golden Age but never really found a way to define the things he loved about classic musicals in an original way. In his attempts to showcase songs that might sound like something Irvin Berlin might’ve written at the height of his career, and in his forays into recreating aesthetics found in