With Masculin féminin, the ruthless stylist and iconoclast Jean-Luc Godard introduces the world to “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola,” through a gang of restless youths engaged in hopeless love affairs with music, revolution, and one another. French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud stars as Paul, an idealistic would-be intellectual struggling to forge a relationship with the adorable pop star Madeleine (real-life yé-yé girl Chantal Goya). Through their tempestuous affair, Godard fashions a candid and wildly funny free-form examination of youth culture in pulsating 1960s Paris, mixing satire and tragedy as only Godard can.
Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin féminin receives a Blu-ray upgrade from The Criterion Collection, presenting the film on a dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a new 4K restoration, which was scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
It's a damn good-looking presentation overall, an incredibly sharp and filmic one, though I’m just a little hesitant on one aspect. In the included interview, cinematographer Willy Kurant talks a bit about the look of the film and the high speed black-and-white film stock he experimented with (Kodak Tri-X) and it sounds as though he and Godard—after he talked the director into it—were going for a look where the blacks and whites were more prominent with a limited grayscale in between. The DVD had a more “blown-out,” almost high-contrast look with brighter whites and darker shadows leading to limited details, the grayscale coming off a bit flatter, and I just assumed this was how the film was supposed to look based on Kurant’s comments. This look is still there to a degree, but it's far less prominent. For sure, the whites are still very white, but that “blown-out” look is toned down, the whites no longer blooming in the brighter areas, and there are far more shades of gray. The blacks still look good, and the nighttime sequences look sharp with nice highlights, but more detail is evident in the shadows (you can make out more strands in Goya’s hair, for example), delivering better depth in the process.
It's possible the element used for the DVD, a fine-grain master, wasn’t truly representative of what Godard and Kurant were originally envisioning. This could be closer to what was intended, and I was just thrown off a bit by it. If it's of any value, though, Kurant was involved with both restorations.
Moving on and forgetting all of that, just assuming this is how the film is supposed to look, it’s worth pointing out that the technical aspects of the presentation and encode are otherwise up to snuff. The DVD didn’t do a bad job with grain, for the format at least, but the rendering here is far sharper and clearer, looking more natural. Detail levels are quite extraordinary, the tweed jackets and finer details of the Paris setting look unbelievably crisp, sticking out clearly. It all lends to a nice photographic look.
The DVD was also pretty clean but did feature some minor blemishes scattered about, along with a slight flicker/pulse here and there. All of those issues are now mostly gone with this presentation, save for a handful of small marks that remain. All-in-all, on a technical level, it’s a sharp looking and clear upgrade over Criterion’s previous DVD.
The disc provides a lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack. The film uses live sound, thanks to a microphone built into the camera, so you get all the artifacts that come with that, from background noise to a certain scratchiness in places. There are some sound effects added after the fact, like gunshots that indicate transitions, but most everything else, including the music, was recorded right there on location. When music does appear, it does come off incredibly harsh. Despite the raw nature of it the audio manages still sound clear and sharp with decent range and fidelity, and no severe issues with damage.
Criterion ports all of the features found on their 2005 DVD edition over to this Blu-ray starting with two interviews with actor Chantal Goya, one from 1966 (just after the release of the film) and one recorded for the DVD edition in 2005. The ’66 one is a quick 5-minute profile, the singer/actor talking about where she sees her career going and how audiences, particularly her fans, reacted to the film. Her parents, she states, were “scandalized” by the film. The 2005 interview features Goya covering the direction her career actually went, explaining how her teenage looks limited her in the roles she could get, her having to focus on children’s content. She then reflects on being cast and working with Godard, and talks about the uproar the film caused, the film even receiving the equivalent of an NC-17 in France. Interestingly it's only because of the film’s closing lines of dialogue and the political elements within the film.
It's a wonderful reflection on the film’s production, touching a little on its release, and Criterion expands on this latter topic with a 25-minute discussion between critics Freddy Buache and Dominique Païni. The two (or at least Buache to a larger degree) were initially dismissive of the film, as were other critics at the time, and the two first talk about why they felt that way before touching on how and why their feelings changed on the film through the years, aided a bit by them realizing Godard’s film about the “children of Marx and Coca-Cola” was just well ahead of its time. It’s an unfortunately stale presentation but the discussion is thankfully involving and energetic, and I appreciated the added context around the film’s time of release.
Jean-Pierre Gorin provides a 15-minute overview of the film, more academic in nature, talking about how it, at the very least, captures the “notion of youth” in 1965, along with banality of it all. To the latter point, he admires how the film aims to show boredom but work it so that it’s still interesting to an audience, and that includes those (what I always felt to be) random violent inserts to “animate” the situation. He also looks at specific scenes, explaining their construction and how they present the characters.
Cinematographer Willy Kurant talks for 12-minutes about how he came to work with Godard, who usually had Raoul Coutard on his films (Kurant refers to himself as being the cinematographer equivalent of a mistress), and goes over, in decent technical detail, how he captured the look of the film, mentioning experimentations with different film stocks, test footage he filmed even showing up in the film. And then from the archives, Criterion includes a 4-minute excerpt from a Swedish television program showcasing Godard filming a scene for the film in Stockholm. He’s actually shooting a scene for the film-within-the-film, which the other participants assume was a spoof of Bergman and erotic Swedish films that were becoming popular at the time (the notes for the supplement target Bergman’s The Silence specifically), though I don’t think the people behind the program are aware of what it is. The disc then closes with the film’s original trailer and then the 2005 re-release trailer.
Criterion also carries over the booklet from the DVD edition, which first features an essay on the film written by Adrian Martin, focusing on this point in Godard’s filmography along with its impact. Martin did record a commentary for a 2006 Australian DVD of the film that sadly has not been ported over to this edition. At any rate, his essay is then followed by a reprint of an article covering a visit to the set of the film for Le nouveau Candide, written by Philippe Labro. At one point Labro asks if the film is a sequel to his previous film, Pierrot le fou, to which Godard replies “yes,” but only because it too will be full of despair. To fit the Blu-ray case the smaller dimensions of the booklet have also called for the content to be reformatted, which in turn has increased the page count from 13 for the DVD to 20 for this one. Nothing new has been added.
The film does call for a more stacked edition, a commentary at least; again, there isn’t much of an excuse not to get Martin’s commentary (his essay suggests it would be an excellent one). At the very least, the interviews do a well enough covering the film from both production and academic angles.
The upgrade over the DVD is impressive, though it seems to have led to a different look from what I was expecting. The bonus features are also still quite good, but one would think Criterion would have seen fit to add some new material.