Judge Ben Saylor remembers everything. Who are you again?
"I'm not happy because I'm not alive in the present."
Jean-Luc Godard's Une Femme Mariée (A Married Woman) was made and released smack dab in the filmmaker's dizzyingly prolific and creative run in the 1960s. It came out in 1964, the same year as Band of Outsiders, a year after Contempt, and a year before Alphaville. So, in terms of chronology alone, Une Femme Mariée is certainly noteworthy.
Looking beyond the film's place in Godard's oeuvre, and one will find a typically experimental work of the filmmaker's from this period. The film begins with Charlotte (Macha Méril) in bed with Robert (Bernard Noël), her lover. A series of fading shots ensue before us, with the camera focusing on the body parts of the lovers, only gradually revealing the faces of the pair. Godard's beginning establishes a running concern for the film; that of body image. The film closes with similar shots of the lovers together, and during one sequence, Charlotte obsesses about a magazine article that explains how to determine whether one has a perfect bust, and also pages through print ads of lingerie.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Une Femme Mariée includes a subtitle that translates as Excerpts from a Film Shot in 1964 in Black and White. While some may feel this smacks of pretension, in the case of this particular film, such a description seems appropriate.
Let me explain. As with many Godard films, there is very little "plot" to speak of in Une Femme Mariée; Charlotte, married to pilot Pierre (Philippe Leroy), has an affair with Robert. She becomes pregnant and is not sure who the father is, nor does she really know which man she wants to be with.
The key word in the subtitle is "excerpts," and after watching the film from start to finish once, I decided to watch it out of order, in segments. While this effort is made somewhat difficult by Koch Lorber's rather miserly chapter selection, picking a random spot in the film and pressing play is actually an interesting way of examining the film and its various experiments in technique and style, and given the film's sparse story, it's not as disorienting as it might seem (although I still recommend watching the film start to finish first).
When I started watching the film this way, I hit upon a segment referred to via intertitle as "La Java." This leads off with Charlotte and Pierre's maid, Mrs. Celine (Rita Maiden), giving a monologue directed to Charlotte about her (Mrs. Celine's) husband's sexual appetites after she enhanced her bust with a Peruvian serum. Godard employs this technique earlier in the film as well, during a dinner hosted by Pierre and Charlotte. Each of the attendees (including Pierre's young son, played by Christophe Bourseiller) delivers a monologue. Pierre discusses the importance of memory, relating a story of his experience at a trial of Nazis from Auschwitz. Charlotte, on the other hand, wants only to live in the present. A more philosophical monologue from a guest (played filmmaker Roger Leenhardt) of Pierre and Charlotte's is counterbalanced by the child's contribution to the sequence, which helps keep the film from veering into self-seriousness.
Godard experiments elsewhere in the film as well; the soundtrack is periodically marked by Charlotte's whispered voiceover of (what I assume are) her thoughts. This, in turn, brings to mind another scene in the film in which Charlotte eavesdrops on a conversation between two young women, where one woman is offering the other relationship advice. Godard places Charlotte between the speakers, and as they hold their conversation, additional text appears on the screen that reads like Charlotte's interpretation of the discussion.
Throughout the film, political, cultural and philosophical elements pop up to form a sort of stew that should be familiar to Godard fans. There are multiple references to Auschwitz, and one to the World War II Vichy government. We see images of Marlene Dietrich and Alfred Hitchcock, and Charlotte and Robert have a rendezvous at a showing of Alain Resnais' Night and Fog. Characters are allowed to pontificate during the monologues discussed earlier.
So what does all of this (what I was discussing in the preceding paragraph) add up to? Again, there is a major emphasis placed on obsession with body image; Godard is especially critical of Charlotte in this regard. Charlotte's ignorance of Auschwitz predates the extended interview with the model in Masculin Feminin. What seems clear, then, is Godard's dim view of the vapid, adulterous Charlotte. I'd be lying if I said I "get" everything that's going on in the film, but for me that's part of the fun with a film like Une Femme Mariée; there's plenty to explore in subsequent viewings.
Une Femme Mariée was shot by legendary French New Wave d.p. Raoul Coutard, and he does his usual excellent job whether the camera is stationary and trained on lovers' arms or is set further back, as when it observes Charlotte and Robert as they move among two adjoining rooms. Overall, the visuals of Une Femme Mariée aren't quite as memorable or dynamic as other Godard films from this period (especially when compared to Vivre sa vie and Contempt), but are nonetheless quite good.
Koch Lorber's DVD of Une Femme Mariée is good, if not great, from the technical side; Coutard's cinematography comes through well for the most part, and the sound is similarly adequate. No one would mistake this for a Criterion disc, but the film is more than watchable. No extras are included, however.
For anyone completely new to the works of Jean-Luc Godard, I wouldn't recommend watching Une Femme Mariée first, even though it's more accessible than other films by the director. However, for those who admire Godard's films, Une Femme Mariée represents a fascinating work from a filmmaker operating at the peak of his powers.
Charlotte may be indecisive, but this court isn't. Not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
Review content copyright © 2009 Ben Saylor; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.