I went into Une Femme Mariée with very limited exposure to the actual films of Jean-Luc Godard despite having studied his techniques and style in various film school courses. Not even Breathless, which is infinitely quoted as the quintessential French New Wave classic, particularly interested me. Maybe Une Femme Mariée surprised me as much as it did because of my unfamiliarity with Godard’s oeuvre. Just to think, having studied someone in great detail had shaped my perspective beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet, Une Femme Mariée is a challenging film on its own, free from the cult of personality that is Godard and yet fully indulging in his stylistic fashion.
Une Femme Mariée lets us peek into the life of Charlotte and her relationship with her husband and her lover, respectively. Macha Méril, whose delicate features and lack of emotional expression quickly establish her as only mildly involved in both her affair and her marriage, plays Charlotte. She is, like the rest of the characters in the film, prone to spouting thoughts on philosophy and reality, but only in passing with fleeting interest as to the nature of her words. She drifts through life, hardly torn between the affections of Robert (Bernard Noël), who pines for her in an openly sexual way and the machination of her paternalistic husband (Philippe Leroy), whose own advances are muted.
Charlotte’s opening scenes with Robert are shot in a uniquely divisive way, with the camera lingering more on individual body parts than the characters themselves. Taken on their own, Robert’s appreciation of Charlotte’s legs, arms, or her stomach take on a subtly disturbing collection of images, almost overt in their suggestion of division between the person and the body, questioning our attraction as purely physical or mental.
Pierre, Charlotte’s husband, is a pilot and a poor communicator, lightly slapping Charlotte when he tries to communicate his distrust. Their scenes are almost infuriating when you witness the lengths these two people will go not to talk with each other but still toil to fill the air with pointless exchanges. Finding herself between these two men, Charlotte’s personality doesn’t vary so much as dissipate, replaced by numbing agreement and a disregard for an emotional response both men seem to be vying for. She does not wish to satisfy them but is herself barely laboring to keep up appearances as wife and mother.
This is a difficult film, highly reminiscent of Bergman’s oft-inscrutable Persona, lacking a narrative and freely relying on conventions even as it subverts the typical plot with character interviews aimed at breaking the fourth wall. Godard’s fascination with cinema lets him ape the idea of the spectator in both character blocking and self-aware camera placement, a constantly prodding hint at the existence of a crew just outside the borders of the frame.
Much of the drama, what little there is of it anyway, comes from Charlotte’s realization that she is pregnant doesn't know who the child’s father is. This disrupts the idyllic balance in her mock-up bourgeoisie world, but I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens. Suffice to say those hoping for histrionics are unlikely to get much in the way of high emotion, but rather an examination of individual desires and the nature of reality, love and trust.
The DVD features a decent transfer of an undoubtedly older film (made in 1964). This is not a bombastic film and there is little in the way of simplistic exchanges and some outside noise. The option for subtitles is of course included, but I cannot verify how accurate the subtitles are to the original words.
DVD Bonus Features
Unfortunately, aside from accompanying trailers, the disc does not offer any special features, but judging by the relative unfamiliarity of the film as part of Godard’s filmography, this is not surprising.
"Une Femme Mariee" is on sale June 2, 2009 and is rated NR. Drama. Directed by Jean Luc Godard. Written by Jean-Luc Godard. Starring Bernard Noël, Macha Méril, Philippe Leroy.