Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud) has recently been demobbed from the army and is sitting in a cafe wondering what to do with his life when in walks Madeleine (Chantal Goya), who he recognises and is attracted to. He strikes up a conversation with her, finding a connection in a mutual friend of a friend who Paul hopes will get him a job on the magazine that Madeleine works for. As they talk, they are drowned out by an argument in the cubicle across the room, an argument that ends with the couple yelling at each other and the man taking away their son. However, the distraught mother reaches into her handbag and pulls out a pistol which she rushes outside with and shoots the man dead.
So begins writer and director Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin Féminin: 15 faits précis, a the next film after his classic Pierrot le Fou, and sharing a similar cynicism and melancholy, if not quite as successful at stirring the heartstrings. It's the battle of the sexes all over again, but not so much a battle as an inability to see eye to eye; here the women are shallow or unreasonable (to the men, at least) as the males pontificate about their revolutionary ideals while longing after the females. Do they simply want sex, or do they yearn after love, and more meaningful relationships?
As the title suggests, the story - well, the happenings, anyway - is broken up into fifteen parts, each divided by a gunshot-accompanied item of sloganeering that may or may not be entirely relevant, the most famous of which claims this film is about the children of Marx and Coca-Cola, stating a tension between the commercial and the political exists in his characters. But the politics never seem to take flight here, with Paul never really getting his points across, while the popular aspects of consumerism never satisfactorily take the place of any true emotional connections.
Paul's main love as far as the commercial goes is cinema, and he's one of those film buffs who is preoccupied with aspect ratios as we witness when he visits the local picture house only to launch himself out of his seat towards the projection booth when he thinks the film is being exhibited wrongly. Yet even when that's fixed it can't satisfy him as he realises the drama itself is lacking, and the silver screen is losing its appeal. So it is with Madeleine, who in a casual sense has become his girlfriend, but constantly frustrates him and leaves him questioning his attraction.
Watching Masculin Féminin now, there's a tremendous sense of nostalgia there for the time when Godard was making his nineteen-sixties films, with the feeling of revolution in the air mixed with the confusion that love brings he captures the era and place perfectly and a particular frame of mind in youth that many can relate to. But the cynicism swamps it, as nobody is heading towards any peace of mind, especially would-be journalist Paul who tries an interview technique on women that is more like an interrogation but never secures any worthwhile answers, whether he's asking about reactionaries or sex. That's not to say there's no humour in the film, there is (see the train passenger telling us what Charlie Parker is really thinking about), but a sense of despair is encroaching on the action as it's clear the future of Paul and aspiring pop singer Madeleine is going nowhere fast.