With Masculin feminine, 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 each other. French new wave icon Jean-Pierre Leaud 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 throbbing 1960s Paris, mixing satire and tragedy as only Godard can.
The Criterion Collection's original DVD edition for Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin féminin presents the film on a dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The standard-definition presentation is sourced from a then-recent high-definition restoration, scanned from a 35mm fine-grain master.
This is another one of those older Criterion DVDs that holds up amazingly well, even looking half decent when upscaled. Though grain has clearly been managed the standard-definition encode doesn't do a bad job at rendering what's left, and this leads to decent detail and as film-like a look as possible. Noise and compression are nicely managed as well.
The presentation has an interesting black-and-white look in that the blacks and the whites are more prominent, grayscale appearing a bit limited, and this can lead to some heavy looking blacks along with whites that can bloom or blow-out a little. I'd say it almost looks like the contrast is boosted a bit but it's not exactly that. I always assumed this look was intentional based on comments made by cinematographer Willy Kurant in an included interview, where he talks about using a specifc film stock, Kodak Tri-X, to get the look, but a recent Blu-ray edition tones the look down a bit, making it look a little more traditional, so I must confess I'm not entirely sure now.
At any rate, I still think the DVD looks pretty good, the restoration work having also been quite thorough, wiping out a good chunk of damage; some minor marks and a slight pulse is all that remains. The new Blu-ray betters it technically, but for what it is, this DVD's presentation is no slouch itself.
The film's use of live sound brings its own set of issues, but even taking that into account the Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural soundtrack is clean and clear, no heavy distortion outside of some live music that pops up within the film. There's still a decent level of fidelity and there is some notable range. Minor background noise is present but the track is otherwise clean.
Criterion puts together a decent little special edition for the film, starting things off with two interviews with actor Chantal Goya, one from 1966 (just after the release of the film) and one recorded for this 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, covering how her teenage looks limited her in the roles she could get, having to focus on children’s content instead. She then reflects on being cast for the film 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.
The included 13-page booklet starts things off with an essay on the film written by Adrian Martin, focusing on this point in Godard’s filmography along with the film's impact. This 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.
It's not a stacked edition by any means, but the supplements cover the film from both a production and academic angle.
A DVD that's held up well almost 16-years later, it offers a solid standard-definition presentation and decent set of supplements.