One of the greatest and youth-spirited filmmakers of the postwar era is also one of the most influential personalities for Kerala cinephiles. When it comes to the genre and language of his movies, there is only the Godardian language. Jean Luc Godard imposed dynamic and experimental characteristics in every work that continuously set and broke his own records. The frequent rewriting of dialogues in the morning of shooting days, dogma style of creation, and use of natural lighting are some peculiarities Godard initiated.
Godard is famous in Kerala for many of his creations in the 70s highly focused on leftist ideologies and politics. Here, I explore the ideas in two of the earliest creations of Jean Luc Godard, long before the political installations. I explore the movies Breathless and Masculin Feminin from the inexperienced viewpoints of a Gen Z cineaste.
The debutante directorial of Jean Luc Godard, Breathless was one of the major milestones to kickoff the French new wave of the 1960s. Faintly recognising with the storyline of the movie “Mayanadhi” (2017) in Malayalam, Breathless proves its existence and impact through generations. The film is rich with dialogues and cinematography comprising the beauty of the young and talented actors. The characters portrayed their brilliant performance of their bounded relationship with an enigma of sheer physicality. There was a lot to explore about their physical existence and attraction through nearness in the scenes inside an enclosed room. But there wasn’t anything to confirm their love for each other which has been the probing question since their first on-screen meeting.
The protagonist, Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a criminal on the run after a murder. He lies a good deal, steals cleverly and acts rich to take his lover with him to Italy. He is compulsively in love with his girlfriend’s body, frequently caresses her and takes care of her “existence” with him. Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg), the lover, on the other hand frequently questions herself to ascertain if she really loves him. For her, to find a partner in him is a question of reasoning rather than of physicality. She constantly explains about her promising journalism career, but Michel is not concerned much to find any interest in his future partner’s intellectual capabilities.
At many times, Michel exists as the embodiment of a patriarchal identity who passes sexist comments to every passing woman and at times, to his lover. But at other times, he lets his lover decide who she kisses, who she sleeps with and a lot more related to his greatest element of attraction to her. He discovers a good person in himself who is covered with the filth of learned atrocities and repressiveness of the celebrated male-dominant traits. We realize he knows himself when he throws lines like “I always get interested in girls who aren’t right for me.” and “After all, I’m an asshole. After all, yes, I’ve got to. I’ve got to!”
The movie moves forward when the two protagonists parallelly traversing their separate paths together amidst the madness they are confined in. It is when Patricia betrays Michel by informing the police about him that we understand she didn’t love him. The whole movie is about their physical existence. Their minds are camouflaged with the thick fog of desperation of the protagonists running towards their goals. Their souls are unseen, their minds are hidden. It’s only when they catch their breath we come to know what they learned about their relationship: “When we talked, I talked about me, you talked about you when we should have talked about each other.”
Masculin Feminin (1966)
When one inter-title card on the screen read “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola”, I was struck with a realization. As a person who only happened to see India after the liberalization of the market and with the increase in disposable income, the materialistic desires and capitalistic influence had a direct impact on the understanding of my country. The understanding was frequently being catapulted between the nostalgic greenery and simplicity that Malayalis were proud of and the desire to see this country be as westernized and stylised with the glimmering coefficients of the economically and socially privileged foreigners.
It was important for the young teenager in me to sign up for a Facebook account rather than have a nationalized bank account. But in my late teenage/ early youth years, the extremists and communist ideologies germinated radical socialist notions in me by worshipping heroic figures like “Bhagat Singh“. It went on to spread through the social media wall posts and outbursts in comment sections typed with the coherence of energy supplemented by any international food chain burgers.
Though “Masculin Feminin” hasn’t proposed anything related to the Indian free market or social media, it is fascinating how a movie released more than 50 years ago could strike these elements of thoughts into the mind of a person two or three generations apart, living in a developing country unlike the free and noble classes in the 1960s Paris. This movie is about the youth in Paris post World War II, their ideologies, beliefs, relationship dynamics and life perspectives. The protagonist Michel Debord (Robert Packard) goes to conduct opinion polls of people where he assumes to find the right answer but fails after three months with an insight – “Gradually, over those three months, I came to realize that these questions did not reflect but instead betrayed and deformed the collective mentality.”
Jean Luc Godard, at the time, more than a decade older than the characters in the movie, tried to understand youth and their perspectives with much enthusiasm rather than being adamant about the changing notions of a new generation. The movie reveals his attempt to deconstruct the material understanding of the place and generation he grew up in. It can also be seen as a satirical representation of the younger generation from the outlook of an older person who views them cynically. But that doesn’t change the fact that the relatability to characters, dialogues and the theme of Masculin Feminin is in more proximity with the viewer than the intentional humour designed for entertainment.