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With: Anna Karina, Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean-Paul Belmondo
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 83
Date: 09/06/1961

A Woman Is a Woman (1961)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Pretty 'Woman'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With our new "musical renaissance" at hand, modern audiences may just be about ready to handle Jean-Luc Godard's second feature, A Woman Is a Woman, made in 1961, just after Breathless.

By the same token, it will probably take about 40 years for audiences to be ready for Godard's most recent film, In Praise of Love.

With A Woman Is a Woman Godard pays a rather obvious and loving tribute to musicals by Vincente Minnelli, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. For that purpose, he gave up the low-budget, black-and-white, hand-held look of Breathless, and switched to a giant Cinemascope frame and full color.

The simple, and almost ludicrous plot has Godard's wife/muse Anna Karina playing Angela, a stripper who wants a baby. Her boyfriend Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy) won't give her one. So she turns to Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo), her second choice, to make her wish come true.

No one really sings or dances, and Michel Legrand's amazing score purposely feels at odds with the movie. It just suddenly appears from time to time, as if wrestling with the images, flip-flopping and vying for prominence. It's a strange effect, but somehow the picture still has the overwhelming giddiness of a normal musical.

Godard feels right at home with the new format, using the widescreen to clever dramatic effect -- swinging the camera back and forth to emphasize the distance between Angela and Emile -- or layering Karina across the screen, doubling her with the many mirrors she uses to gaze at herself.

She comes across more playful and less severe than in her other pictures with Godard; she's almost like an Audrey Hepburn gamine, hopping around in pigtails and daring everyone not to find her adorable.

Film-savvy viewers will enjoy Godard's many references, from jabs at his pal Francois Truffaut, to a little number in which Angela announces that she wants to be in a musical with Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly and choreographed by Bob Fosse. Characters often regard and wink directly at the audience, such as when Belmondo complains that he doesn't want to miss Breathless on TV. (Belmondo was the ultra-cool star of that film.)

As always, Godard is more interested in making a comment on the musical than in creating one of his own. The ideas run rampant though A Woman Is a Woman. At one point, one confused character admits that he doesn't know if this is a comedy or a tragedy. "But it's a masterpiece," he says. No question.

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