The youths are always at it again, although Jean Luc Godard’s seminal Masculin Féminin (out in a new edition by Criterion this week ) remains one of the earliest and bluntest films about the youths being at it. It being the pursuit of a career in the arts to avoid adulthood; it being the search for sexual dalliances; it being the endless political fight for socialism in the face of a working-class future. So it was in 1965 Paris.
Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a young Parisian intellectual who spends his days off hanging out in cafés. He briefly served in the military, learning to spurn the rigid structure of authority before going to work in a chemical plant, where he sees the working class as a bored, broken group of people. He believes socialism is the answer and tells anyone who will listen. (Very few do.) He has the confidence of a young man who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He falls for a young singer, Madeleine (Chantal Goya), and enters the world of her flat and her friendships.
Godard follows Paul, Madeleine and company through a series of 15 vignettes depicting the experience of young people circa 1965. Some segments are captivating one-shot conversations, others are dramatic pieces, one features the group watching a film. The film was restricted in France upon its initial release for its frank discussions on sexuality, frustrating the director — who had made the film about young people for young people. Decades of far more frank discussions have followed it. It’s hard not to see the path Masculin Féminin laid out for future artists or how little adolescence has seemed to change in the past 50 years.
Special features include a 1966 interview with Goya; interviews from 2004 and 2005 with Goya, cinematographer Willy Kurant and Godard collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin; a 2004 discussion of the film between film critics Freddy Buache and Dominique Païni; Swedish TV footage of Godard directing the “film within a film” scene; and an essay by film critic Adrian Martin.