Godard’s follow-up to Breathless bursts with colour and Karina.

Jean-Luc Godard celebrated his 90th birthday last week (3 December 2020) and his legacy in French and international cinema has been well documented. He burst onto the scene with the radical and cool Noir Breathless which shaped the way for other French filmmakers in what would become the Nouvelle Vague translating as the New Wave. Godard has gone on to inspire both his fellow countrymen like Francois Truffaut, Agnes Varda and Jean-Pierre Mellville and the likes of 70s American icons George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, to name just a few.

Breathless left such an imprint on French cinema that his follow-up Une Femme Est Une Femme perhaps suffers in comparison.  Breathless is still held in immensely high regard to this day and has been studied copious amounts in the 60 years following its release with Sight And Sound magazine placing it 12th in its most recent list of the greatest films of all time. Une Femme Est Une Femme features the first of many collaborations between Godard and his eventual wife the 60s screen icon Anna Karina, the pair would work together on many of Godard’s best known works including Bande à part, Vivre Sa Vie and Pierrot Le Fou which sit alongside Breathless as some of Godard’s most admired works.

Karina plays Angela, a Parisian stripper who has decided she would like to have a family with her boyfriend Emile, played by Jean-Claude Brialy.  Emile is firmly set against this idea and the pair quarrel as a result, with the frustration of Angela clearly felt.  Karina in one of her earliest roles really excels and has a magnetic screen presence.  She is offered fine support from Brialy and returning Godard collaborator Jean-Paul Belmondo playing Alfred, Emile’s best friend, who is besotted with Angela. This leads to some fun escapist moments and the love triangle aspect is handled entertainingly.

Godard’s earliest colour film, this helps set the film apart from the majority of his other well-known pictures from the 1960s and really helps elevate Karina’s performance and the film as a whole benefits from it. This film has drawn criticism from some corners for its odes to Hollywood 50’s musicals and for the fact it is littered with film references. This didn’t take me out of the film at all and the various nods to Breathless and early other New Wave works are a nice touch, with clear reference to Jules Et Jim, one of Truffaut’s early works.

The light-hearted, playful nature at the film’s heart makes it refreshing when in contrast to some of Godard’s late 60s works and more political phase that he would enter afterwards.  It is a great advert for the unrestrained, genre-free nature of the French films from the early 60s and acts in many regards as a fine companion piece to Breathless. In many ways, in addition to serving as an opening chapter in Karina and Godard’s relationship, this is a fantastic advert for one of the other key facets of his work, Paris itself and it certainly acts as one of the stars of this film.  In each of his works of this era, Paris really shines and at a time when travel is not an option it is really refreshing to bask in the glory of 60s Paris.

Une Femme Est Une Femme may not be one of Godard’s masterpieces but it is certainly worth having on the radar for fans of both Godard’s work and wider French cinema. It is a great indicator of the films that Godard would go on to create, particularly with Karina and Belmondo.  The cast are terrific and the film’s care-free nature works in its favour.  Perhaps saddled with the burden of coming immediately after the genre-defining Breathless, Une Femme Est Une Femme deserves a reappraisal and its place within the legion of fine French films from the 60s.