Movies

Critic’s Notebook

Always open your door to Godard’s ‘A Married Woman’

A scene from Jean-luc Godard’s “A Married Woman.”
Cohen Film Collection
A scene from Jean-luc Godard’s “A Married Woman.”

“Une Femme Mariée” has long been the missing link in Jean-luc Godard’s early filmography. Released late in 1964, rarely screened in this country, and hard to find on video, the French New Wave director’s eighth feature (in four years!) has represented an unseen gap between the playful “Bande a Part” (1964) and the future-is-now dystopia of “Alphaville” (1965). Its title anglicized as “A Married Woman,” the film is touring the nation’s art houses in a digitally restored print ahead of a May Blu-ray release, and it arrives at the Kendall Square Cinema looking like a seductive, inscrutable masterpiece.

Why should you see it? Not only is “Woman” the most sensual entry in Godard’s first decade — maybe in his career — but it serves as a pivot-point between the genre games of his immediate past and the cultural critiques to come. And, like all of those movies, it’s hung up on women, their mercurial mystery, their shallowness and depths.

Macha Méril plays Charlotte, the femme mariée of the title, a pretty, airheaded Parisienne zigzagging between a husband, Pierre (Philippe Leroy), and a lover, Robert (Bernard Noël). She’s an enigma to both and an insecure void to herself, and Godard films their various entanglements in and out of bed as a series of beautiful, isolated body parts.

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The cinematographer was Raoul Coutard, Godard’s right hand in the early days (Truffaut’s, too), and the restored black-and-white photography in “A Married Woman” is stunning in the way it captures the silvery opacity of a woman’s skin. The images are erotic yet empty, alluring and withholding; it’s a world of surfaces because that’s what Charlotte thinks matters.

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For the first time in a Godard movie, though, we feel the vapid consumer culture crowding in, as the heroine obsesses over women’s magazines and the proper bust size. Bra ads and heavy-breathing headlines increasingly dominate the screen; sex is on everyone’s minds and lips and album covers. Charlotte lives strictly in the present but there’s no place to hide there; the soundtrack is filled with her whispered uncertainties and Beethoven string quartets. Beauty in this movie is squeezed out of modern life until it fills the cracks between the characters’ feelings.

Plenty of filmmakers after Godard have mimicked his abstract/intellectual approach to cinema, and they’ve generally failed — Terrence Malick is just the latest to crash on the rocks. To see “A Married Woman,” then, is to revisit an improvisational energy unlike any other, the way there have been millions of Dylan imitators but only one Dylan. What sounds like pretentiousness seemed in the young Godard’s hands the only possible way to make movies. At times, it still does.

Aspects of this film look ahead to the work to come — the grand romantic disenchantment of 1965’s “Pierrot le Fou,” the pop Marxism of “Masculin Feminin” (1966), even the sociopolitical apocalypse of “Weekend” (1967). But “A Married Woman” exists in a valedictory half-light all its own. In the final shots, the lovers’ disconnected hands part once and for all, and it’s as though Godard were bidding farewell to love itself.


A MARRIED WOMAN

Written and directed by Jean-luc Godard. Starring Macha Méril, Bernard Noël, Philippe Leroy. At Kendall Square Cinema. 95 minutes. Unrated (as PG-13: near nudity, frank Francophone frolicking). In French, with subtitles.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.

A previous version of this story misstated where the movie is showing. It is at the Kendall Square Cinema.