Along with his fellow Cahiers du Cinema critics, Jean-Luc Godard argued that being a film “auteur” meant that your films must have the imprint of your own distinct style of filmmaking. Despite the ideological problems with auteur theory, at least the Cahiers crew can be applauded for their consistency with this position in their own works. That is to say, one cannot watch Mascuilin féminin without seeing Godard’s own fingerprints all over it. It has a toned-down style from Breathless (fewer jump-cuts, etc.), and it testifies well to Godard’s transition from more character-driven films like Bande à part and Pierrot le Fou to a more overt political film like Week End. Of course, nothing is black-and-white in Godard’s world, and so even the idea of a “transition” in his cinematic styles is oversimplified. (E.g., Alphaville preceded Masculin féminin but resembles the later Week End more than, say, Pierrot le Fou.)
That these characters are “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola” is evident from the outset, as Godard depicts the new generation that would give birth to MTV and instant gratification. Unhappy with political circumstances and proposed solutions, their cynicism is only outdone by their apathy. Their simultaneous embrace/rejection of established capitalist norms is rendered humorous in the scene when Paul and Madeleine’s roommate pick up Madeleine from her v0cal recording session. Outside the studio’s front door, a reporter descends upon Madeleine to interview her about her growing popularity. Madeleine reflexively addresses Paul as her “driver” and orders him to bring her the car. Paul, of course, is not the driver, and there is no car. As with other Godardian protagonists, Paul has no real occupation, in the common sense of the term. One is sure that he would be repulsed at the suggestion that he should be anything other than a café-frequenting freelance writer who probably rarely gets anything published. Yet, he is uncontrollably attracted to Madeleine and her strange drive for career and wealth.
The film’s numerous pop culture references range from those probably so subtle that only the film’s immediate contemporaries could get them, to the self-referential: Madeleine’s rhetorical question to Paul at one point, to the effect of, “Who do you think you are? Pierrot le fou?” Godard’s poking fun at Bergman films (The Silence?) is quite fun. Most interesting about the scene is Paul’s unexpected response to the eroticism of “Bergman’s” film: running up to the projection room, deeply annoyed at the flawed aspect ratio. This example runs parallel to Paul’s unspoken admission early on when Madeleine “interviews” him. While he pressures her to go out with him, she asks whether “going out” with him entails going to bed with him. Paul simply stares back at her blankly, not so much as if she has figured him out, but truly confused at the distinction she has drawn. This dry view of sex, over and above love, shows its true colors when the scenes in the “Bergman” film still aren’t enough for Paul; he must go gripe about the medium, as he is bored with the content.