Une Femme Mariee

An erudite, somewhat autobiographical, handsome and twisted examination of female infidelity.

Une Femme Mariee

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Cast: Macha Méril, Bernard Noël, Philippe Leroy
Distributor: Koch Lorber
Year: 1965

Captured in beguilingly chic noir et blanc, Jean Luc Godard’s Une Femme Mariée (A Married Woman) is an erudite, somewhat autobiographical, handsome and twisted examination of female infidelity. Although it has been rather overlooked amidst Godard’s formidable body of work, it is one of his most alluring and personal cinematic endeavours and represents a critical juncture in his evolution as a film-maker.

Originally titled La Femme Mariée (The Married Woman), Godard bowed to the French censors, Commission de Contrôle, who were fearful of the film’s potential to be interpreted as an incendiary indictment of womankind. Made after his most commercial offerings Le Mépris (1963) and Bande à Part (1964), Une Femme Mariée marked a clear departure in style with a defiant, lovelorn Godard disenfranchised with the direction of contemporary Hollywood cinema (to whose mores he had never wholly subscribed); rejecting it as a source of both inspiration and provocation.

Untrammelled by pressures of financial returns or star egos, this feature found the Nouvelle Vague’s most prominent exponent alchemising with a meagre budget to create a fractured, more abstract delivery. Despite its playful aesthetics it is achingly tortured, philosophical and intimate. Alternately fascinated and repelled by the subject matter he presents, Godard both conjures and condemns the thrill of clandestine passions.

Godard hastened the film together to placate Luigi Chiarini, the director of the Venice Film Festival who had hoped that Bande à Part would premiere at the festival (instead it opened at Cannes). Produced directly following his irrevocable separation from his wife and muse, the actor Anna Karina -- with whom he had shared several smouldering, turbulent years and, thus far, collaborated on four features – it takes as its focus a common preoccupation of Godard’s: the love triangle.

Karina, to Godard’s considerable anguish, had begun a relationship with Maurice Ronet. With his defunct marriage an open wound, Une Femme Mariée featured several uncomfortable parallels between reality and fiction. It was clear that, with this film (as with, for example Le Mépris, Une Femme est Une Femme), Godard had chosen to plunder his personal traumas and tribulations for material.

The trio of leads, for instance, were the same ages as their off-screen counterparts, and the married woman’s onscreen lover Robert, played by Bernard Noël was, like Ronet, an actor. Such parallels would cause anxiety for his cast; like Brigitte Bardot in Le Mépris before her, Macha Méril, as the female lead Charlotte, was uneasy about playing a character which was so flagrantly based on Karina.

The credits foretell the unusual method of execution, informing us that Une Femme Mariée comprises, “fragments d’un film tourné en 1964” Opening with an unseen woman’s hand feeling its way along a crisp white canvas (subsequently revealed as a bed-sheet); turning, flexing, wavering -- her wedding ring visible. We hear her cryptic remark, “I don’t know”. A man’s hand slides in to firmly grasp her wrist, his voice responding, “You don’t know if you love me?” She answers, “Why do you talk all the time?” adding, “It’s so nice here”.

This sequence anticipates the more well-known Pierrot le Fou (1965) where Anna Karina’s exasperated Marianne -- who favours experience over discussion -- famously tells Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo), “You talk to me with words, and I look at you with feelings”: dialogue which has been taken as a succinct summary of the inherent incompatibility of the characters of Karina and Godard.

The series of images that immediately follow are partial views of Charlotte, the eponymous married woman, and Robert, her lover, which both brutally dissect their bodies and voyeuristically revel in the intimacy of these moments. Book: Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard

Author: Richard Brody

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company

Publication date: 2009-06

Length: 720 pages

Format: Paperback

Price: $20.00

Image: his excellent book Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, Richard Brody describes the effect as, “an anatomy of an affair, as seen through the lens of a coldly repressed jealousy. By isolating the parts of bodies from their characters, Godard suggests that the sexual acts are being performed mechanically and unthinkingly, rather than as the actions of complete, responsible people.”

With this distinctive opening sequence Godard was throwing the gauntlet down to his audience; challenging them from the off with his unabashed, intellectually provocative new approach.

Macha Méril as Charlotte is a serene mistress of duplicity – her implacable elfin exterior barely troubled by ripples of discernable guilt. Her inner turmoil is instead represented by the whispered free-associative phrases that Godard himself recorded for the soundtrack.

By incongruously inserting his own voice; confessing for this representation of his former partner, he undermines the character’s credibility and, as Brody comments “it was as if he were sharing with an intimate stranger the self-lacerating confidences of what he had heard, seen, or imagined from his life together with Anna Karina.”

Méril plays Charlotte as a smiling assassin, her subtle performance holds up impeccably under the intense, almost indecent scrutiny of this most accusatory of directorial gazes. On more than one occasion she gently knocks her fists against her cheeks and dips her head toward the ground ambiguously: are we witnessing nerves, or faux coyness?

Philippe Leroy convincingly portrays her intense, suspicious (albeit with demonstrable good reason), and violent husband Pierre: if he is the primary representation of Godard here, then Godard emphatically does himself no favours. And her lover Robert fares no better; after interrogation to establish his suitability as a partner and father, Charlotte finds him unsatisfactory and the film closes with the end of the affair. The dialogue was skilfully semi-improvised by the actors, and thus the film places realism in tandem with Godard’s sleek modernist visuals.

Godard does not reserve his disdain purely for marital relations. He satirises the vacuous nature of modern wants with the married couple’s glib discussion of their ‘enviable’ abode and lifestyle accoutrements; effortlessly exposing both the ludicrous unimportance of the acquisition of things, and the hollowness of their relationship.

In addition, he exposes the corrupting influence of the prurient world of advertising on young women, with both good humour – Charlotte is wittily framed between the enormous bra cups of a billboard, and acuity – Charlotte listens in on a young girl shyly discussing her tentative steps toward a sexual relationship; footage which is preceded and followed by montages of crude images and text from fashion magazines, thus creating the impression of the innocent reality bewildered and adrift amongst crass fantasy.

Une Femme Mariée is a sophisticated, confessional, dynamic piece of film-making and a pivotal work from the Godard canon. It is highly recommended to both Godard completists and to those interested in the malleability and potential of the cinematic artform; particularly with regards to its ability to convey truth and its relationship to reality.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.