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The Married Woman

The Married Woman(1965)

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Subtitled "Fragments of a film shot in 1964," Une Femme Mariee, Jean-Luc Godard's modern portrait of love and sex in the media-saturated sixties, is a collage of a life of a young wife having an affair. It would seem a perfect role for Godard's wife and muse, Anna Karina, who had been the star of four earlier films, including Vivre sa vie and Band a parte, but they had recently separated after she had an affair with the co-star of another film. In her place he cast Macha Méril as Charlotte, the married woman of the title, and it's no coincidence the brunette beauty resembles Karina, down to her stylish bangs. Charlotee, like Karina, she is a beautiful young woman married to an older man and having an affair with a actor. Godard had come up with the script idea earlier but it turned partially autobiographical by the time he started scripting, becoming his portrait of a world where, in the words of one critic, "Karina could leave him."

The film opens on a montage where Charlotte is reduced to parts – legs, arms, back, lips, midrift, isolated glimpses of the naked female suggesting those erogenous zones that could not be photographed in a mainstream feature film – caressed by the still unidentified lover. Only when the lovemaking is over do we see the face of her handsome partner, Robert (Bernard Noël). It is her afternoon trysts with this young artist, photographed with a strikingly handsome formality that is both erotic and removed, suggests a physical intimacy and an emotional disconnection. All through the film, Godard alienates Charlotte from her life. She has no close friends (at least that we see), lives in a sleek modern apartment devoid of lived-in warmth and shrinks from the touch of her husband Pierre (Philippe Leroy), a pilot. When meets Pierre at a private airfield after leaving her lover (she switches taxis on the way like in a detective thriller – does she suspect he's having her followed?), Godard cants the camera until the image is turned on its side, a visual upheaval of an otherwise simple meeting.

Charlotte is an intellectual lightweight (she confuses Auschwitz, in the news because of a famous trial of concentration camp guards in Germany, with the thalidomide trials) married to an older intellectual with a condescending attitude. As the after-dinner dialogue drifts to weighty topics once again, we see a girl more comfortable living in the moment than grappling with history and memory. Godard offers chapter titles to these scenes, marking them off from the rest of the film and playing them out as formal interview, the subjects shot head-on in close-up. The interviews, and the chapter headings, continue through the film, each one coming closer to home for Charlotte. And between the lovemaking and the conversations, Charlotte discovers she is pregnant, and she doesn't know which man is the father.

The film is a mix of naturalist observations of Charlotte in her environment and a expressionist and experimental commentary on her world. Godard fills the film with advertising images and logos, newspaper headlines and scraps of text (even the lobby of their apartment building has a Cocteau line written across the wall), and over the soundtrack there is the whisper of inner thoughts. They are perhaps her thoughts but the voice is male (in fact, it belongs to Godard). Lingerie ads are found in every magazine she peruses and loom over her from massive billboards and the sides of buildings as she walks the streets. As Charlotte swims in an indoor pool, the screen reverts to camera negative imagery, a world turned visually inside out. The fragmented scenes of sexual contact recalls the lovers in Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds and Bergman's Persona, but also echo the advertising images of lingerie ads, an idealized yet impersonal image of woman and an cold study of human contact devoid of emotional passion or human warmth.

While Godard continues to explore cinema language, trying to communicate life in a media saturated consumerist society, Une Femme Marie is also an intimate portrait of young woman so alienated from her life that she does not seem to realize how unhappy she is. Charlotte is a product of her environment, giving in to her consumerist impulses driven by the cacophony of advertising around her and practically a commodity herself (the ideal of woman as seen in the ads) desired by her husband and her lover. She's in a marriage disintegrating out of a lack of communication and an affair from which she is increasingly detached. Godard has a sympathy for her as a victim of her culture, and traces her path to self-awareness and seriousness as she ponders her pregnancy and weighs her affair against her marriage. It is also Godard's most visually handsome film to date, shot in creamy cool black and white by longtime cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who helps Godard create a sense of emotional distance in even the most intimate scenes of lovemaking and pillow talk.

After creating such politically and socially provocative films as Le Petit Soldat (about torture and the war in Algeria), Vivre sa vie (prostitution) and Les Carabiniers, not to mention the stylistic revolution of Breathless and the social satire of Contempt, it's hard to believe that this modernist drama of an extramarital affair could rouse controversy. Yet it did, in its own small way. The film had premiered at the 1964 Venice Film Festival to great acclaim, but in France the censorship board voted to ban the film. They found the film salacious (the public announcement claimed that it contained "images contrary to good morals") and the censorship became a cause celebre in France. Yet Godard, unusually, agreed to make changes, most of them involving minor edits (a shot of Charlotte's panties falling to the floor, for instance). The most unusual change came to the title. The board insisted that the original title Le Femme mariee ("The Married Woman") somehow implicated all married women in the heroine's adultery so Godard changed the offending article from "le" (the) to Une Femme mariee: "A Married Woman."

The films has been overshadowed by Godard's more overtly political and confrontational films, such as and Weekend, and his playful genre exercises like A bande a parte and Pierrot le fou, yet at the time it was one of Godard's most critically acclaimed films and remains one of the most financially successful films of his career. His feeling for his heroine is genuine – few of his movies evince such emotional sympathy – and his criticism of consumer culture is woven into her story.

The film makes its DVD debut from E1 in a well-mastered disc from an excellent print source – the B&W imagery is crisp and rich – but features no supplements. In French with English subtitles.

For more information about Une Femme Mariee, visit Koch Lorber Films. To order Une Femme Mariee, go to TCM Shopping.

by Sean Axmaker