Not my favorite Godard film–that would be Weekend–but still relentlessly inventive enough to make it stand out from most of the rest of the New Wave. A strange admixture of banal teenagers (including Jean-Pierre Leaud at his most transparent and Chantal Goya brilliantly playing herself) and more revolutionary pre-Weekend ideas , the film wildly undercuts every traditional conception of youth culture and rebellion. I found Godard chilly and detached when I was younger and preferred the more direct, sentimental early works of Truffaut; now I realize how bracing an interrogation of those values Godard performed in his own work. It makes a romantic exercise in Spirit-of-1968 nostalgia like Bertolucci’s The Dreamers look downright antiquated in comparison.
Masculin-Feminin is inconsistent and riddled with a little too much contempt for the bourgeois idle youth that it portrays, but as with much of his 60s work, Godard’s polemic is overcome by the sheer aliveness of the footage. Jean-Pierre Gorin is incisive when he says that Godard captures the youngsters being spoken through by a variety of sources: capitalism, government, pop culture, left-wing rhetoric. The youths repeat second-hand litanies like distorted tape-recorders, with a inchoate sensibility that doesn’t admit such notions as “belief” or “disbelief.” It could be damning to show the youths as such unreflective automata, and perhaps for Godard it was, but the performances belie that harsh judgment. They’re so full of internal energy that you have to accept the kids as they are, not as they have been imagined by romantics.