Monday, December 1, 2008

Two or Three Things I Know About Him: The Misogynistic Tendencies in Godard's 60's Films?

We have been avoiding it like an 800 pound gorilla in the screening room. Although many of us (Cineit, Two Weeks from Everywhere, Tlog Bitle) have glibly acknowledged the misogynistic tendencies in some of the Godard films we have been watching, we have not been willing to openly discuss the issue at length with honesty and clarity. I have already noted that in BREATHLESS the issue of misogyny is inextricably linked to Godard's use of the "Femme Fatale" of film noir and the portrait of the late 50's/early 60's woman's search for independence from patriarchal-familial oppression. Ambitious women were forced to choose between their love lives and their careers, much the same way as today's women find themselves making the same choices albeit without such fatal consequences. Patricia in BREATHLESS snitched on Michel for reasons of 'common sense', rationality and the fact that she had surmised from that long intimate apartment scene with him that their love and his life would not last very long. Patricia made the decision any woman in her position would have had to make: Michel had to be sacrificed if she wanted to go on living- independently. In Godard's subsequent film, LE PETIT SOLDAT with Anna Karina we do not see this 'femme fatale' motif used as the Karina's character of Veronica is caught in the web of French government and FLN spying and counter spying. If fact, her death (by torture no doubt) is held off-screen, sparing us the details and the sentimentality. But with LES CARABINIERS, UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME and continuing through to CONTEMPT and MASCULIN/FEMININ women occupy a tenuous position in the Godardian cinematic world. Under Godard's gaze the woman has three faces as 1) a victim of male patriarchy ( Nana in VIVRE SA VIE or the 'Seductresses 3rd class in ALPHAVILLE), 2) a nouvelle femme fatale placing her ambition above her relationship with a man (as BREATHLESS, MASCULINE/FEMININ) or 3) the cause or the insigator of bourgeois ideals, materialism, artistic and moral vacuity (as Venus and Cleopatre in LES CARABINIERS, Camille in LE MEPRIS (Contempt) or Juliette in DEUX OU TROIS CHOSES QUE JE SAIS D'ELLE (Two or Three Things I Know About Her). Interestingly, in CONTEMPT Paul blames his artistic vacuity on Camille. He claims that he got the apartment and wants to provide (presumably) the bourgeois ideals for Camille. Yet in the film Camille makes it a point of saying how fondly she remembers when Paul was just a writer and the two of them lived in a small apartment with nothing. Thus, it was Paul who was reaching for the bourgeois ideals, but when he failed or had a crisis of conscious he would blame Camille. He did this by asking," Do you like the apartment?" Goading her into agreeing so that he might absolve himself for having sold his integrity to someone like the sleazy American producer Jeremy Pokosch. In Two or Three Things, Godard seems to be again placing the onus of blame for bourgeois materialism on the female, in the sense that it is the woman who prostitutes herself to afford the luxuries beyond her or her husband's means. More than this, because the male characters in Two or Three Things concern themselves with politics and current events, Juliette's shopping, prostituting and general empty existence is all the more unfavorably juxtaposed with the men's activities. It is as if Godard could not acknowledge that there were men who were also 'buying' into the bourgeois ideals of the new consumer society. Juliette was not alone in wanting these ideals of consumer society. Although he whispers his observations about the Gaullist regime's changes to "Elle: The Paris region" his film only shows us a gender partitioned view of these changes. So although Godard alternates his presentation of the female throughout his 60's films there is a preponderance of criticism leveled at the female for being the instigator or the cause of the blind acceptance of bourgeois ideals and materialism. Such criticism is problematic only in so far as it excludes the man from the pursuit of these ideals or allows the man to blame the woman for his pursuit as Paul tried to do in CONTEMPT. Perhaps these tendencies are not so much misogynistic as they are chauvinistic in that we are given only one gender as the object of the critique. Yet with WEEKEND Godard seems to change again and allow the man to share some of the blame, so that it might be more prudent to say that Godard constantly alternates the relationship of gender to materialism and bourgeois ideals in such a way that one film cannot contain or express the whole of his criticism. Considering the fact that Karina in Godard's last film with her, MADE IN THE USA played a gun-wielding "bogart-like" character it would seem that we have to accept the chauvinism of the previous films as expressions of the era in which the films were made. Just as one as to accept the explicit racism in John Ford's THE SEARCHERS as an expression of the racism inherent in American society in the 1950's so also might we see those chauvinistic tendencies in Godard's work of the 1960's as reflective of French society at that time.


SolShine7 said...

Just found your blog via The Obenson Report podcast. Your books sound interesting. Are you from Michigan? (I think he mentioned that).

p.s. You can check out my film blog at

SolShine7 said...
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