Jean-Luc Godard, 1961
Starring: Anna Karina, Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean-Paul Belmondo
Anna Karina stars as Angela, an exotic dancer who very much wants to have a baby. Her boyfriend, Emile, does not. They argue about it and Emile childishly challenges Angela to have a baby with someone else -- someone who actually wants one. They call his friend Alfred, who, as it turns out, is in love with Angela. Will Emile change his mind? Will Angela make the right choice? Will the film, as it constantly asks, be a comedy or a tragedy?
Though I'm biased because I love Godard's films and anything with Anna Karina, Une femme est une femme is an utterly charming piece of New Wave film-making that even viewers who find Godard too pretentious should enjoy. Inspired by American musicals and the films of Lubitsch, A Woman is a Woman is a dizzying array of color, music, comedy, and feeling. In many ways, it is a comic companion piece to Contempt, Godard's famous work about the crumbling marriage between a writer and his wife. It asks many of the same questions about love and identity and even includes the issue of adultery. This film also uses the couple's apartment as the central location for most of the drama, and includes a scene of them fighting with some fancy camera work. This time the fighting is trivial and funny, with a comic slant that is both endearing and highly amusing (see below).
Godard includes many references to other films, as well as being comically self-referential. For instance, when Alfred first shows up, he says he can't stay long because Godard's film Breathless is going to be on TV later. While some might see Godard's constant attempts to expose the artifice of film-making as annoying or pretentious, I enjoy it. Karina's obvious enthusiasm for her role is infectious and her frequent winks and cute faces at the camera make it hard to find fault with the film.
If you're unfamiliar with the French New Wave or nouvelle vague, this is an excellent introduction. It's certainly funnier and more accessible than a lot of other films from the period and, even though everything is shown through rose-colored glasses, it is an unflinchingly human portrayal of life, love, and growing up. It's a wonderful film and I highly recommend it.
I'm reviewing the highly recommended Criterion release. It has restored picture and sound, a short Godard film, interviews with Karina, and much more.