• Masculin Feminin

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment (World Classics Collection)
    Release date: 2017
    Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
    Cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Michel Debord, Chantal Goya, Marlène Jobert, Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Duport, Birger Malmsten, Antoine Bourseiller, Françoise Hardy, Eva-Britt Strandberg
    Year: 1966

    The Movie:

    Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a young man fresh out of the army, spends much of his free time with his buddy Robert (Michel Debord), hanging out in cafés, discussing left-wing politics, and checking out women. He becomes smitten with Madeleine (Chantal Goya), a pretty young singer who seems simultaneously attracted to and bored with his nonstop pontificating. The two become lovers for a time, as do Robert and Elisabeth (Marlène Jobert), one of Madeleine’s two roommates. Paul gets a job interviewing young people, most of whom turn out to be far more passionate than informed, for a sociologist. Before, during, between, and after those interviews, everybody talks. At length. About everything.

    Based (sort of) on two short stories by Guy De Maupassant (“Paul’s Woman” and “The Sign”), Masculin Feminin is classic cinema vérité, cutting edge at the time but so commonplace today that it’s hard to appreciate without conscious, deliberate effort. The story, such as it is, is divided into fifteen segments that, although arranged chronologically, aren’t all that distinguishable from one another in any thematic sense. It’s not a bad film by any means. It’s just a hard-to-summarize one, more free-style exploration than direct narrative. Its technique of interviewing its characters for the viewer’s benefit puts one in mind of TV shows such as Modern Family, though, again, Masculin Feminin has less of what you’d call a plot. Even more than cinema in general, this is the sort of film where the viewer’s takeaway is pretty much going to be dependent on what he or she thinks about educated, urban young people in the first place.

    It is safe to say, however, that the main characters will probably get on one’s nerves fairly quickly. (One assumes that was intentional, but it’s a movie about intellectuals made by an intellectual, so who knows?) Paul and Robert are particularly tedious, due mostly to their desperation to be perceived as brilliant. The “edgy” tone of their rebelliousness—at one point, they courageously spray-paint an anti-Vietnam slogan on an American general’s car!—is familiar to anyone who's taken an introductory Poli Sci course during his or her freshman year of college.

    On the upside, fans of ‘60s European pop culture can indulge in a little “spot the cameo” if they so desire. Bombshell Bridget Bardot and accomplished theater director Antoine Bourseiller appear briefly as a couple. Swedish actor Birger Malmsten does a walkthrough as himself, and French pop superstar Françoise Hardy shows up simply to be beautiful, apparently.


    Weirdly for a work from a director as renowned as Godard, Masculin Feminin has yet to receive a Blu-ray release. It has been released no fewer than nine times in various home entertainment formats since 1991, with Criterion spearheading the first of several DVD releases in the United States in 2005. Umbrella’s release is the latest, and it obviously comes from a hi-def transfer. Why it wasn’t placed on Blu is a mystery. The film is presented full frame in standard definition, yet the detail is pretty remarkable. The opening shot is immediately revelatory; look at the detail in Paul’s blazer as well as in the wall behind him. The black and white photography is crisp, and this presentation shows it off. There’s a layer of grain that is neither too overpowering nor too underwhelming, and dirt, debris, and print damage of any kind are almost entirely missing. It’s clear that this is a film that’s been cleaned up frame by frame. There’s little crush, with nice gradations to the monochromatic imagery. It screams for a high-definition release.

    Umbrella has opted for French Dolby Digital 2.0 for the soundtrack. By no means bad, it does have its limitations. The film’s sound was likely recorded on lesser equipment, though it’s been cleaned up pretty well. There is a very slight hiss, almost unnoticeable in the background. The film is very dialogue driven, and that dialogue is pretty clear. On rare occasion background noise can get in the way of the sounds in the foreground, but this isn’t a consistent problem.

    This is a budget release; as such, there are no extras, not even a menu screen.

    The Final Word:

    To repeat: Masculin Feminin is by no means a bad film. But let’s face it: Time and innumerable copycats, not to mention its own talky disposition, have somewhat dulled its effects. Still, Umbrella’s DVD contains beautifully rendered visuals despite the standard definition. If one is going to watch the film, this is the way to do it. Too bad such a prestigious director as Jean-Luc Godard couldn’t command more love in the extras department.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s is currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.