This is an apt title because of the gender inequality that the mid-1960s can be associated with, especially the depiction of either sex in films.
Madeleine and her friends are depicted as socially unaware conformists who only live in the moment and don't care for the deeper meaning of life and so embrace popular culture. In contrast, Paul and Robert are seen as the opposite: nationalists, idealists, philosophers. However, as Elsa, be it in a rather uninformed way, related from her experience in the U.S., the women over there were making it to the front lines. The freedom to have an abortion was also treated as a scandalous matter in France, which Madeleine accepted and chose as a follower of the popular culture.
A scene in the film has Robert discussing with Paul how the word 'masculin' is made up of 'masque' (mask) and 'cul' (ass) and when Paul asks what 'feminin' is made up of, Robert responds: "Nothing." Then we see that as the film ends, the word 'feminin' morphs into 'fin' which may be interpreted as Godard believing that women carry within them, the end of the men that love them. The end aids the ambiguity of how Paul died by implying that Madeleine may have killed him.
Godard meant this film to serve as his connection and message to the youth of France highlighting the irony in the fact that due to the graphic nature and extreme portrayal of the youth, it was not available to audiences of 18 years and below which was "the very audience it was intended for," according to Godard (Daix, 1966). "MasculinFeminin" takes the form of art instead of following the clear cut rules set by previous French cinematic works. Throughout, the characters and how they influence each other take the central role, as is attributive of art films (Bordwell, 1979). Godard uses ambiguity to display how real life works and often leaves us with more questions than answers.
The choice of the cast has also been a key factor in defining 'MasculinFeminin' as an analogy for the goings-on of the French youth. Jean-Pierre Leaud, who had become the face of the new wave films by starring in Francois Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows' as Doinel, plays Paul. He began to be associated with and epitomized the romantic rebellious youth back in the 1960s, just as the new wave writers wished to portray their characters. Even as Paul, the audience got the sense of Leaud from his acting which became a boon rather than a bane because of his identification with the New Wave films and what they usually tended to portray. It helped that Leaud was a young man at that time and was idealized by the contemporary youth and was able to get Godard's message across effectively.
The actress who played Madeleine was in fact a ye-ye singer herself, one of the reasons why Godard wished her to symbolize the youth affected by popular culture. Chantal Goya was the archetypal'60s babe embodying the American need for instant gratification, luxury and prosperity, and the mindless acceptance of the popular culture by the French youth. Goya had the impassivity of expression that allowed her to play the indifferent lover of the romantic Paul.
The differences in backgrounds of the two lead actors allowed both of them to become their characters instead of just paying them. This allowed them to accurately emulate how neither saw eye-to-eye on matters and the awkward attempts at communicating with one another, and how they were still pulled by one another by the mutual attraction that they felt.
All in all, Godard applied "his prodigal energies, his evident risk-taking, the quirky individualism of his mastery of a corporate, drastically commercialized art" (Sontag, 1964) to illustrate through 'MasculinFeminin' the state of the culture in France in the mid-1960s and its journey to giving birth to a counter-culture. It may not appeal to the larger populace due to its execution and its message but as Paul says in 'MasculinFeminin' in a scene at the end of a disappointing movie, "This wasn't the film we'd imagined. The perfect film each carries around with us.The film we would like to have made or perhaps even have lived."
AsgerJorn quoted by Graham Birtwistle: Living Art / Jorn's Theory (1946-1949): Reflex, 1986, p36.
Bordwell, David. The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice. University of California Press, 1979.
Daix, Pierre. Les LettresFrancaises, 1966.
Francois, Truffaut. A Certain Tendency ofthe French Cinema. Classic Auteur Theory, 1954.
Godard, Jean-Luc. Godard on Godard. Secker & Warburg, 1972.
Grant, Barry Keith. Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film. Detroit, MI: Schirmer Reference, 2007.