Woman Is a Woman, A (1961)

This early Godard sees Anna Karina at her most bewitching (those soul-staring eyes that break the fourth wall!) as the auteur reinvents the ‘rom-com’ with wilful abandon and artistry.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,367

Dir. Jean-Luc Godard
1961 | France | Drama/Romance/Comedy | 84 mins | 2.35:1 | French
PG (passed clean) *Note: It should be NC16 for nudity and some sexual references

Cast: Anna Karina, Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean-Paul Belmondo
Plot: A French striptease artist is desperate to become a mother. When her reluctant boyfriend suggests that his best friend impregnate her, feelings become complicated when she accepts.
Awards: Won Best Actress & Special Prize (Berlinale)
Distributor: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Relationships
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

In his second film released right after the iconic Breathless (1960), A Woman Is a Woman features Anna Karina in a Berlinale Best Actress performance, playing Angela, a striptease performer who finds herself romantically entrapped between two men. 

She wants a baby but her boyfriend Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy) refuses; the latter suggests that his friend, Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo), impregnates her instead, to which Angela welcomes. 

It seems morally outrageous today, but as far as the freewheeling, who-the-heck-cares French New Wave period is concerned, A Woman Is a Woman is very much a product of that glorious time. 

Godard reinvents the ‘rom-com’ for the liberal ‘60s with wilful abandon and artistry—he pays particular attention to sound and music as composer Michel Legrand is tasked to punctuate scenes with emphases, interludes, and sudden bursts of underscoring that remind of Tom & Jerry cartoons. 

“Is this a tragedy or a comedy? Either way, it’s a masterpiece.”

It’s such a playful film that you might imagine Godard to be smirking when assembling it together in the editing room.  He takes out sound when you least expect it, and then reminds us how good a montagist he can be in one of his oeuvre’s most underappreciated sequences, where Alfred shows Angela a photo in a café. 

Karina is also at her most bewitching here, in full-colour goddess mode no less, as her eyes regularly break the fourth wall to stare deep into our souls, sometimes even teasing us with a seductive wink. 

While Contempt (1963) and Band of Outsiders (1964) are my two favourites of his, A Woman Is a Woman may just sneak into my top five Godard and is a perfect introduction for anyone yet to tackle his slew of ‘60s greatest hits. 

Grade: A-



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