Jean-Luc Godard was absurdly prolific in the 1960s, but with "Une Femme Mariée" ("A Married Woman," 1964) he took productivity to its absurd extreme. While "Band of Outsiders" was playing at Cannes in 1964, Luigi Chiarini, director of the Venice Film Festival, approached Godard to ask if he was working on another film. Godard wasn't, but he still promised Chiarini a new film in time for the upcoming Venice Festival just three months later. As it turned out, from pre-production to final print, Godard filmed "A Married Woman" in just over a month, a feat which would make anyone other than Fassbinder green with envy.
An early title card identifies "A Married Woman" as "Fragments of a Film Shot in 1964," and this label is packed with multiple meanings. The film has a fairly straightforward plot involving a love triangle: Charlotte (Macha Méril) is married to Pierre (Philippe Leroy) and is having and affair with actor Robert (Bernard Noël.) But the narrative is broken up into fragments of a day in Charlotte's life. She lounges about with Robert after a tryst. She sits in a café looking at fashion advertisements. She attends a fashion shoot.
Several scenes are filmed as interviews, highlighting another aspect of that title card. "A Married Woman" is "A Film Shot in 1964," a record of its time, and has the semi-documentary qualities that marked many of the New Wave films. As Charlotte wanders Paris and contemplates some important decisions, Godard constructs a picture of 1964 Paris out of its capitalist iconography: advertisements, press clippings (one of which is for Truffaut's "The Soft Skin"), billboards, etc. This accumulation of consumer-oriented details suggests a city and a culture that is built on a shaky ideological foundation, one which the characters buy into without question.
The film is also fragmented visually. The opening shot shows a woman's hand snaking across a white bed sheet, her wedding ring clearly visible. A man's hand grabs her wrist. In the following shots, each separated by fade outs, we see her back and shoulders, legs and midriff while the man's hands and legs are his only on-screen manifestation for the first several shots. The whole film isn't shot this way. In fact, one of the most innovative sequences is shot from outside of a balcony as husband and wife chase each other from room to room. But the early shots set the tone for a film that will be told and photographed in fits and starts rather than in a linear progression.
"A Married Woman" covers a wide variety of topics in superficial detail, mirroring the superficiality of some of its characters. The Holocaust is the subject that looms largest. Charlotte is not an unintelligent woman but she's clearly not a politically conscious one. When she meets her husband at the airport, he's accompanied by Roger Leenhardt, the real-life director who plays himself here. The two men have just returned from the Auschwitz trials in Frankfurt.
Leenhardt: You've heard of Auschwitz?
Charlotte: Oh yes, the thalidomide?
Leenhardt: No, not exactly. You know… it's that old story, Auschwitz.
Charlotte: Oh, yes… Hitler.
A brutal joke flies right over Charlotte's head.
Leenhardt: In Germany, I asked someone, "How about if tomorrow we killed all the Jews and all the hairdressers?" He answered, "Why all the hairdressers?"
Charlotte: Yes, why all the hairdressers?
In a later scene, Charlotte meets her lover Robert in a movie theater where they play act a chance meeting. The film showing is Alain Resnais' "Night and Fog," a stark Holocaust documentary. In anticipation of Jerry Seinfeld and his date making out during "Schindler's List" thirty years later, the lovers don't seem the least bit deterred by the shocking material on screen. They're more concerned with their fantasy.
If you want to play the game to its extreme, the film is also a document of Godard's real life. The love triangle reflects his real-life situation involving his wife and muse Anna Karina's affair with an older actor. It's always dangerous to over-emphasize a film's autobiographical elements, but there's clearly a connection, and it wasn't the first or last film in which Godard would use his frustrations with Karina as creative fodder. He had already begun planning "Pierrot le fou" which he would begin filming shortly, and the two would divorce during the shooting of his next film "Alphaville" (1965.)
"A Married Woman" is one of Godard's most formally precise films of the early 60s, remarkable considering the hurried shooting schedule. He and cinematographer Raoul Coutard made a phenomenal team, and this is one of their finest collaborations. From the fetishistic framing of body parts to the pop-music fueled montages of advertisements, the film is crisp and brings vitality even to its long, static shots. Coutard's black-and-white photography (also trumpeted with an early title card "En Noir Et Blanc"), of course, is gorgeous.
The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. Sadly, this interlaced transfer is a mediocre effort. Combing is prominent throughout the film, and even some static shots look a bit herky-jerky and lack the desired clarity. The black-and-white contrast is strong, however, so it's not a total loss. It's still a disappointing effort.
The DVD is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. Optional English subtitles support the French audio.
None, not even a booklet.
"Une Femme Mariée" has traditionally been the most difficult of Godard's early 60s films to find on video. It's great that Koch Lorber has finally made this available to a wide Region 1 audience, but it's unfortunate that it's a subpar transfer. The transfer isn't so poor that you won't want to own the DVD for the sake of such a great film, but we could certainly have hoped for more. Certainly a few extras would have been welcome for such a complex film, and one of the least seen and discussed Godard's from this period.