7 landmark performances by Jean-Pierre Léaud

2 – MASCULIN FEMININ (1966) by Jean-Luc Godard
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Having made his celebrated cinematic debut at the tender age of 14, Jean-Pierre Léaud became one of the prime choices as leading male representative of romantic intellectual rebellion in the films of the French New Wave. This typecasting is what makes his inclusion in Godard’s Masculin Feminin all the more meaningful. Here is a film that enhances the theme of battle of the sexes within a specific socio-political contrast. Young people, especially, are classified by their pro or anti American stance.
Here, Léaud plays a youth named Paul who clearly, vocally and passionately opposes America. But Godard is no fool, and in subtle but clear and clever ways, he spends the duration of the film demystifying the political conscience of his male lead by revealing his ideologies as a facade, and its wider aim identified as shaping his personality, as much as popular culture i.e. cinema. The aim of his personality is, of course, getting laid, and more specifically, sleeping with a pretty pop singer, played by real life pop singer Chantal Goya.
Masculin Feminin is not talked about as much as other films from this golden decade of Godard works. This is because, perhaps, its impact was not as immediate as, say, Breathless of Band of Outsiders. In retrospect, however, it could arguably be the film of his that has aged the best. By demistifying the ideals of Paul, he is doing it through the channel of one of the most established international heart-throbs of the French New Wave. Léaud is, by all means, a beautiful icon of French cool, one that guys would to this day love to be, and girls to this day want to sleep with. By doing so, and by undertaking this process, he is channelling his observations of a period known for its flourishing counter culture that is held in the highest regards for bringing about political change and reforms (this is particularly true of Western Europe, while in the U.S. are more synonymous with drugs, sex and rock and roll.) This, perhaps, adds a spin to the film when seen today that could probably only have been seen by Godard himself.
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