The following are fragments of a consideration of the Eureka!/MOC Region 2 U.K. DVD of the Godard film named above.
In a recent comments thread on Dave Kehr's website, the critic Kent Jones, his frustration very nearly palpable, wrote: "That people are still comfortable calling Welles a failure or Godard a charlatan is, I guess, indicative of cinema’s relative but continuing disreputability."
That anyone could look at this film on its own and pronounce it the work of a charlatan seems inconceivable. That anyone could look at this film in the context of the Godard works surrounding it—Le Mépris, Bande a Part, Alphaville—is even more inconceivable.
Godard on Welles: "All of us will always owe him everything."
This film is an inexhaustible document. Since receiving the DVD of it—a beautiful transfer, each individual shot a miracle of detail—I think I've watched it in some form or another about seven times. Sometimes all the way through, other times in fragments, at least once—forgive the sacrilege, if you're inclined to think this sacreligious—as a form of ambient video. Each way, it is magnificent. Unimpeachable.
Is Charlotte, the married woman of the title, Godard's dupe or double? As she obsesses over the notion of the perfect bust (in perfect ignorance of the fact that Macha Méril, who so magnificently incarnates Charlotte, possesses what could reasonably be considered that very thing), she is a tragicomic icon of the age-old objectification of women. When she asks "Yes, why hairdressers?" after filmmaker Roger Leenhardt (seen below) relates a mordant anecdote about Germany's genocidal preferences, she's just the sort of dumb bunny who leaves Godard open to charges of misogyny. But when she asks he lover if he "know[s] Fantomas," she's absolutely Godard. Has to be.
Some pertinent dates:
First publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique: February, 1963.
French release of Godard's Une Femme Mariée: December, 1964.
HBO screens the first episode of Sex and the City: June, 1998.
Some may think it strange for a film that's ostensibly about the then-chic topics of adultery and sexual freedom and a woman's "place" in society, that it's so haunted by the Holocaust. Leenhardt's discussions of a trial of Auschwitz guards are almost literally bookended by a scene in which Charlotte and her lover meet in a movie theater at Orly airport. One that is showing, improbably enough, Resnais' Night and Fog. As Godard's later films continue to insist, even more forcefully than this one, history is that from which we can not escape.
The 80-page booklet that accompanies the disc, edited by Craig Keller with contributions from Keller, scholar Bill Krohn, critic/filmmaker Luc Moullet, and featuring a statement from Méril, a lecture and a collage by Godard, and some pertinent passages from Racine, is in its way as much of a fragmented masterpiece and provocation as the film itself.
At the risk of seeming to veer into a perhaps unseemly area of self-promotion, I posit that Steven Soderbergh's new film The Girlfriend Experience crosses Une Femme Mariée with Richard Lester's Petulia.
Charlotte's lover to Charlotte: "Where do you begin? And where does the image I have of you begin?"
Charlotte's husband: "Memory is everything."
Charlotte: "It's more exciting, the present."