The two central characters are Paul (Jean-Pierre Leaud, Silver Bear winner for his performance), a romantic idealist, intellect and would-be revolutionary, who works briefly with a magazine, and Madeleine (Chantelle Goya), an attractive, rising pop success following the recent release of her first single. The film loosely tiptoes around the intimate moments of the on-and-off friendship/romantic relationship between Paul and Madeleine, who become romantically involved despite very different musical tastes and political leanings. It also looks at their relationships with their closest friends.
These political opinions are reluctantly revealed; the success of communism is discussed via an interrogation-like questioning and messages opposing the crisis in Vietnam are blatantly documented. The most extreme example are the painting of an anti-war slogan on the side of a car and a violent demonstrative suicide. Godard interrupts the main story with several sub plots and unrelated sequences, and superbly balances sensitive revealing conversations with moments of extreme and inconsequential violence and extraneous incidents. Following a quarrel in a cafe, a woman shoots her husband in the street, and a man comes at Paul with a knife in a pinball arcade only to finally turn it on himself.
An element of Godard’s dialogue that has struck me as interesting is the way that it often feels like the characters are interviewing one another, or offering up a series of inquisitions. Here the characters seem to have little other option but to talk to one another through a form of an interrogation – and they are filmed as though they are standing alone and being reported, opening their feelings on art, love and politics to both their conversation partner in the film and the audience.
The extremely talented Jean-Pierre Leaud (who is probably best known for Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows, and actually worked as an assistant to both Godard and Truffaut) might be one of Godard's most memorable male leads. He enriches his character with odd mannerisms - like throwing a cigarette into the air and catching it with his mouth - and an improvised, staccato dialogic method. I am convinced a friend of mine modelled his look and political ideals on Paul's character in this film, too. Masculine Feminine - a film I have leant out and haven't watched fresh, but have seen several times before - might be my favourite Godard. I'm not sure anymore, having now seen so many of his great films. But, there is no denying it is a brilliantly odd, important and honest film, and a transfixing portrait of Parisian youth made for the youth at the time.