Masculin, féminin is a low-budget, black and white film directed by Jean-Luc Godard and released in 1966. The film stars French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud as Paul, a romantic young idealist and literary lion-wannabe who chases budding pop star, Madeleine (Chantal Goya, a real life Yé-yé girl). Despite markedly different musical tastes and political leanings, the two soon become romantically involved and begin a ménage à quatre with Madeleine’s two roommates, Catherine (Catherine-Isabelle Duport) and Elisabeth (Marlène Jobert).
Ostensibly basing his film on two stories by Guy de Maupassant, Godard mixes off-the-cuff reportage and mise en scène to create a strikingly honest portrait of youth and sex (in France, the movie was prohibited to persons under 18 — “the very audience it was meant for,” griped Godard while the Berlin Film Festival named it the year’s best film for young people), with Godard’s camera probing his young actors in a series of vérité-style interviews about love, love-making, and politics. More than any other film of Godard’s greatest period Masculin, féminin is a time capsule of France and Paris in the 1960s, with references to everyone from Charles de Gaulle and André Malraux to James Bond and Bob Dylan, and — true to the Godard style — filled with jokes, puns and non-sequiturs, the story repeatedly interrupted by seemingly extraneous incidents: a woman blows away her husband; a scene paraphrased from LeRoi Jones’ Dutchman; Brigitte Bardot rehearsing the lines of a play in a bistro; a Swedish sex-cum-art-film-within-a-film, with Léaud stalking off just when things get hot on-screen — going outside to climb the external stairs that lead to the projectionist, where he delivers a lecture on aspect ratio; a pinball arcade where an armed thug gives Léaud a choice between life and death, and surprises the audience with a third alternative; spray-painting anti-war slogans on walls, and more.