Time has been unkind to “A Woman is a Woman,” Jean-Luc Godard’s 1961 trifle. What may have seemed energetic and innovative four decades ago is fairly enervated today, and only the most rabid Godard fanatics will find reason to seek out its new theatrical re-release.
“A Woman is a Woman” follows the dilemma facing Angela (Anna Karina), a Paris stripper who abruptly decides she wants to have a baby. Her live-in boyfriend Emil (Jean-Claude Brialy) is far less enthused about the idea. Their low-life/high-living friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is eager to help Angela achieve her goal, but Angela would prefer to have Emil as the father.
What could have been a mildly amusing boulevard comedy is, unfortunately, stretched into a borderline-insufferable exercise in avant-garde cinema at its most pretentious. Slices of inappropriate music and sound effects rocket in and out of the soundtrack while the characters engage in endless cutesy gestures that include having a silent conversation where book titles replace dialogue, riding a bicycle around a dining room table and grinning at the camera when delivering what they think is a funny line. The film’s production design has a strange approach to color, highlighting reds and blues to the point of obscuring the rest of the spectrum. There is also has the trademark Godard jump cuts which hiccup the action along in a very bumpy manner that makes the film seem even more dated.
Devoted Francophiles and cineastes may find a few nuggets of interest here. The film is stuffed with jokey references to the French cinema of the early 1960s (Belmondo states he wants to get home to see “Breathless” on television, Jeanne Moreau makes an uncredited cameo where she is asked about “Jules and Jim”). “A Woman is a Woman” is also the first major role for Godard’s frequent collaborator and future wife Anna Karina (whose stunning physical presence compensates for her lack of comic timing). Furthermore, this re-release features a new print that does full justice to Raoul Coutard’s bravura cinematography, which uses the Scope ratio (2.35:1) and Eastmancolor process with more skill and intelligence than the film warrants.
For those who select their moviegoing destinations based on marketing campaigns, be forewarned: “A Woman is a Woman” is being promoted as Godard’s “movie-mad tribute to American musicals.” Except for a brief and ridiculous moment when Angela exclaims she wants “to be in a Hollywood movie with Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly, (with) choreography by Bob Fosse,” this film has absolutely nothing in common with the glorious musical of Hollywood’s golden era. People who want a great movie, or even a good one, will forego “A Woman is a Woman” do better to see if there is a Cyd Charisse-Gene Kelly film playing on TV.