Scene Sound Off: Masculin Feminin

While I am going to focus on the laundromat scene, I want to examine part of the six-minute tracking shot that precedes it. Paul records a poetical monologue in a record-making booth. The satisfaction of his purchase is signaled by an overlaying pop song beginning as he emerges from the booth. He walks into a room next door to play pinball where a man holding a switchblade confronts him. The jubilant song continues as he forces him out of the room and abruptly stops as they reach the exit.  This demonstrates New Wave’s use of mixing and harshly contrasting tones and emphasis on filmic manipulation. A West Side Story-esque showdown seems imminent as the man flashes his blade—then suddenly and incomprehensibly– he stabs himself! The playful pop song plays once again, once again mixing tone by harshly juxtaposing the sudden violence. The next scene places Paul in a laundromat, where Godard employs the use of disorienting jump cuts as he paces around telling a story. Paul is rapidly positioned throughout the laundromat with no logical path. Through this quick succession of disparate editing practices, Godard exposes film’s constructed nature.

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The next part of the scene places Paul in a laundromat, where Godard employs the use of disorienting jump cuts as he paces around telling a story. Paul is rapidly positioned throughout the laundromat with no logical path. Through this quick succession of disparate editing practices, Godard exposes film’s constructed nature.

After a series of hand-held location shots of the crowded cobblestone streets, Paul enters a laundromat and asks his friend to guess what just happened to him. If Masculin Feminin employed a logical Hollywood narrative, perhaps such a story would pertain to the previous bizarre stabbing. However, he merely relays an unrelated tale where he felt like someone was following him while walking down the street. This story has no larger implications on the narrative itself but is a playful and comic anecdote. Godard cuts to Paul sitting beside Robert. We hear whistling as Robert speaks. It is unclear at first as to whether this is a non-diegetic sound effect (which Godard has employed before in the film) or if it is coming from Paul. Robert then invites Paul and Madeline to come with him Saturday to hang up posters. Paul responds that he does want to bring her for he wishes to break up with her. However, he is going to be forced to live with her since he is being kicked out of his apartment. This youthful aversion and suspicion of romantic commitment is another characteristic of the French New Wave.

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Robert opens a newspaper and reads an article about Bob Dylan. “He is a Vietnik,” Robert says, as in a Vietnam protester and a beatnik. Youthful preoccupations with politics (the Vietnam War) and topical pop culture references encompass many French New Wave films. Bob Dylan is the quintessential icon for rebellious early 1960s youth doubling as political activists. The pair then sing a song about killing tyrannical political figures- Hitler, Stalin and Lyndon Johnson. The sequence ends with a physical gag of Paul stimulating sexual intercourse with his hands. Godard once again juxtaposes comedy and tragedy as Paul then immediately laments his unhappiness, “I don’t know why I’m laughing,” he says. Paul and Robert’s interactions have a loose, improvisational feel. Their final exchange signals Masculin Feminin’s interrogation of gender politics on the cusp of second wave feminism: “Ever notice there’s the word ‘mask’ in masculine? And also ‘ass’?” “And in feminine?” “Nothing.”  Overall, both scenes have an ethos of eccentric playfulness– Paul’s comedic story, the pinball confrontation and sex jokes.

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