Michael Benedikt Selected Criticism & Other Prose including Translations
[ New Page, posted early 1/04 ]
Scenario by Jean-Luc Godard for His l961 Film
'A WOMAN IS A WOMAN'
Film stars Anna
Karina as Angela Recamier,
Jean-Claude Brialy as
Emile, & Jean-Paul Belmondo
An earlier version of translation appeared
in Cahiers du Cinema in English
& then in Jean-Luc Godard: A Critical Anthology (E.P. Dutton & Co., l968).
Jean-Luc Godard: Scenario of 'A Woman Is A Woman' (transl. Michael Benedikt)
Godard's Scenario Subheading: 'Based on an idea by Genevieve Cluny'
Translator's Note: Two of the names which appear in Scenario were changed in the film: Josette to 'Angela Recamier' & Paul to 'Alfred'
The action takes place in the present, either in a provincial city like Tours or in one of the quarters of Paris--such as Strasbourg or Saint-Denis.
It all begins late one Friday afternoon and ends twenty-four hours later on Saturday night.
The three main characters are Josette, Emile, and Paul. There's also Suzanne, a friend of Josette and (perhaps) also of Paul, but her role is minor.
Emile and Josette have been living together for a while in a small three-room apartment, the windows of which look out onto a street running parallel to the major boulevards.
Emile's a bookseller by profession. He has a tiny shop which sells newspapers and second-hand books, located in a narrow street running at right angles to the large, outer boulevards. He's a big fan of Dashiell Hammett and Marie-Claire.
All the action takes place in an area enclosed by about one hundred square meters. It's important that the characters he able to speak from window to window, or from window to door. That's how Josette will chat with Suzanne--and that's also how, when necessary, Emile will be able to call down to Paul, in the bar below.
What does Paul do? He's a street photographer. In other words, using, flashbulbs, he bombards bystanders on the boulevards.
And Josette? Ah! Josette! One might never think it of her but Josette's a stripper working in a nonstop bargain-price revue near the Porte St. Martin. She does two numbers every afternoon, three every evening. Charlestons as an Indian dancing-girl! Sambas as a Marquise! Josette believes in her art, and she practises conscientiously before her mirror.
On Friday, the place is closed down for the night. And that's precisely why we have the opportunity to start our film with Josette, who's returning home to make supper.
She passes Paul on the street. He fakes taking a photo of her. It's apparent that Paul would like to jump straight into bed with Josette, because she's petite & cute and has such an excellent figure.
But as it happens, Emile and Josette adore each other. Thus, Paul cherishes a hopeless dream (like Pola Illery in regard to Albert Prejean in Rene Clair's 14 Juillet--a film of unquestionable genius).
At the strip-joint: a suggestion that Josette would like to have a child, and get married--there's a child that she plays with while its mother is onstage doing her number; or a layette which all the girls--during the interim in which it's impossible for a pregnant girl to earn a living stripping--take turns knitting for a pregnant comrade.
Further hints of Josette's intentions are given in the street. But instead of having Josette stare wistfully around at passing children, she should stare hard at old people to whom she reacts by "doubting her youth." They intensify her desire to have a child before it is too late!--even though she's only 25.
So: Josette is home alone but preparing dinner: hers and Emile's. She hesitates, pauses in the midst of it, talks to herself, comes and goes, paces back and forth, calls down to Suzanne then quickly closes the window because Emile's returning.
The evening meal. Quarrel between Emile and Josette because suddenly--after the usual playful light-hearted denials when Emile insists that the three-minute eggs are not quite done--Josette comes out point blank with: O.K., you're right and I agree--but only if you let me have a baby!
She then demonstrates to Emile--by an idiotically niave yet unassailable logic--that Emile doesn't love her since he neither wishes to marry her nor have a baby. Emile says that life is fine just as it is and that maybe we'll look into the matter two years from now. But Josette says: not in two years--now! This has been going on for too long!
She wants a baby right away, and she launches into some absurd, paradoxical argument, one whose absurdity confuses even Josette, since it's apparent that if she pursued it to its logical conclusion, she would end up completely contradicting herself. So Josette more or less blackmails Emile: What if I decide to have a baby by some other guy?
The discussion degenerates into anger. Since he loves her, Emile takes Josette at her word. And Josette lets herself get caught in the trap, too, because she loves him. Emile says that she can have a baby with anyone she likes, for all he cares. Josette: she's going to ask the next person she sees.
Gag with the next person she sees, who knocks at the door just then. It's the concierge, bringing up the laundry.
Josette undresses. Emile is triumphant. Josette says that if Emile thinks she's giving up, he's mistaken. She's going to ask Paul. Well, we shouldn't stand on ceremony, says Emile putting the best possible face on a bad situation--at which point he himself calls Paul, who is (long live chance) in a bar, directly downstairs.
It's because tbey are in love that things are about to go wrong for Emile and Josette who are wrong in believing that they can push this issue at far as they like, simply because of their mutual and therefore eternal love.
Paul, jumping at opportunity, arrives thirty seconds after Emile invites him to come up.
Emile, playing master of ceremonies, asks Paul if he would be so kind as to step up and make a baby--a baby, that's quite right--with Mademoiselle.
Paul raises his eyebrows--he's taken aback somewhat. Despite his rascalish airs, he wasn't expecting that. Josette, who remains silent, decides to give Emile--who's been ridiculing her far too openly this time--a lesson. She leads Paul to the bathroom. Emile remains outside, alone--but pretends to be amusing himself while just passing time. Then suddenly, he glues his ear to the washroom door. He hears nothing. And the door is locked. He's upset, but tries not to show it.
He's thumbing casually through a book when Josette and Paul emerge from the bathroom, faces aglow. Josette flirts a little with Paul in front of Emile, who remains silent, not batting an eyelash. Suddenly without warning, Paul caresses her where he ought not to, and Josette slaps him in the face. Emile laughs. Paul starts to snicker. Furious, Josette throws them both out of the apartment, which she inherited from her grandparents, belongs to her somewhat more than it does to Emile. Emile and Paul depart, laughing and joking, and exchanging jibes about women. Josette's alone then, and mumbling to herself in front of the mirror, calls them nasty names. She convinces herself that since Emile has refused her, she has no other choice but to get pregnant by some other guy.
Emile returns. He's forgotten he doesn't know what. They decide in a sudden turn of conversation, not to speak to each other anymore. Then, in silence, they go to bed. Various gags.
The next morning. Once again, they decide not to speak to each other. Further gags. Before leaving, Emile wants to embrace Josette. Listen, Josette, this is idiotic. Josette refuses him roughly, but with an exaggerated politeness (like Johnny Guitare when insulting the sheriff). Emile rushes out, slamming the door, which pops open again. Josette then slams it herself, so hard that once again it rebounds & flies back open. This happens two or three times. She has to close it quietly finally--which upsets her still further.
Josette, alone again. Just then, telephone call from Paul who wants to meet her immediately at the tobacco shop on the corner. Paul absolutely must speak to Josette about something very important which just happened that night
Josette dresses to go to the appointment. Through the window she sees Suzanne, who's going out to do her marketing. She joins Suzanne in the street. Suzanne reveals that Emile just phoned her to ask her to keep an eye on poor Josette, who has taken leave of her senses.
Wanting a child--oh sure, everybody knows how crazy that is, says Josette. I'll show him, that dirty dog. And Josette, in a great huff, leaves Suzanne flat--suddenly, so that Suzanne won't see her going off to her meeting with Paul. Josette arrives at the tobacco shop where Paul's waiting. She asks him if Emile has asked him to spy on her, too. Paul is shocked and astounded.
He insists that he's sincere. He's been thinking a lot since last night He knows now that he truly loves Josette, to whom~more swiftly to press his suit--he offers a second vermouth.
Josette refuses. But Paul has quite a few aces up his sleeve: next, more effectively to get Josette to sleep with him--he shows her a photo he snapped (without telling her that it was taken several years before) of Emile with some other girl on Emile's arm.
(If Jean Poiret plays the role of Paul, possible interlude here with Michel Serrault dressed up as a nun. He picks up 3.000 francs a day begging in front of cafes. But since this would be Paul's vision, he's simultaneously calculating how much he should deduct from the take as his percentage).
Josette wants to have a baby really desperately--but it's necessary that the guy who fathers it at least be in love with her, She's not yet sure that Paul really is. Paul is doing his best to persuade Josette to come back to his place. But Josctte has to leave soon, because she has to prepare lunch for Emile. She leaves Paul, telling him to wait in the bar downstairs, opposite the windows of her apartment. She says: if in five minutes you see shutters still closed, it means that I'll be right down. And if the shutters are open, it means that I'm not coming, because I've made up with Emile. Josette hurries upstairs. She arranges everything so that Emile can proceed to dine without her: for example, she leaves notes such as the salt is in the sugerbowl, the dish-cloths are all there--in a pile with the dinner-napkins, etc. Then, she goes over to close the shutters, and to signal to Paul that she's is coming down.
At which point Emile returns, asks why it's so dark, and throws open the shutters. Same game several times in succession, but seen from the point of view of Paul who keeps jumping up & making false starts. Finally Emile forces Josette to leave the shutters wide open and Paul thinks that Josette is reconciled with Emile when exactly the opposite is true.
After a lunch speedily consumed Emile, with Josette refusing the least bite and instead rehearsing her new strip routine (she does it deliberately to excite Emile), they leave and go downstairs still pursuing their dispute, and annoying each other much more than even love allows.
Whenever Josette is in the street, have her look around, showing that she's thinking of having a baby, that she's considering each of the passing men as prospective fathers, but that mostly she looks at children or at old people--and that it's the very old people who make the greatest impression on her.
Show that it's a genuine obsession with Josette. In the end, it's necessary that the audience find this absurd desire to instantly conceive a child within twenty-four hours rather touching. Josette might also have been capable of suddenly being overwhemed with a desire to go to Marseille, or of yearning for a dress worth a hundred thousand francs or a pastry--it doesn't really matter except that it be a desire for something which she would rather die than not get, something absolutely idiotic in fact, but it doesn't actually matter what .... that's the way it goes, a woman is a woman and for a woman in her situation to want to have a child at twenty-five is for a young woman, after all a noble and lofty idea).
In the street, Emile, exasperated, stops a passerby and asks him point blank if he'd agree to have a baby with any woman whatsoever, without knowing who she is (Treat this scene in pure documentary style--while keeping the camera concealed so as to capture the actual reaction of the individual to whom this question is put, at the exact moment when it's asked).
Emile accompanies Josette back to the nightclub; then returns to his shop alone. We stay with Emile as he mopes around among his secondhand books. Suddenly he decides that he should marry Josette, and he runs to the night spot--where Josette's failed to report! a furious manager announces.
Josette's not in her apartment. Nobody's seen her. Suzanne hasn't either. After closing up his shop for the night, Emile mopes around some more. He's so sunken in gloom that when a photographer friend of Paul says he saw Josette and Paul together this morning at the tobacco shop, be completely fails to react.
Thus, when a prostitute propositions him near the Boulevard Sebastopol, he accepts. Shortly afterwards, we see him come back downstairs and telephone all the local hotels to find out if anyone has seen Paul with Josette. Then Emile tries to telephone Paul's house--except that Paul doesn't have a telephone. (Perhaps, by another house-to-house game, Paul might live on the opposite side of the street, and all that Paul does Emile might be able to see, but not hear).
Emile asks the tenant who lives beneath Paul's room to go and see if Paul is there.
Paul is indeed there--in bed, with Josette. The tenant goes back down the stairs and reports to Emile that Paul's at home all right. Emile asks him to go back upstairs and tell Paul that he is leaving at once for Rio de Janiero. The man huffs & huffs back upstairs again to tell Paul that Emile says he is leaving at once for Rio de Janiero.
Paul and Josette decide that Emile's gone crazy. Josette's already dressed. We stay with her until she gets back to her apartment. In the street, she stops before a mirror to look at her silhouette, sticking her stomach alternately out and in. Josette arrives at Emile's house in tears, Emile is as glum as he was earlier. She tells him that she went to bed with Panl, because he made her drink three vermouths while repeately playing a certain Aznavour record which always leaves her head in a spin.
Emile is utterly destroyed when Josette tells him that, unquestionably, she is pregnant. He doesn't tell her about going to bed with the prostitute.
Sadly, Josette and Emile go to bed. They stretch out stiffly beside one another. After a few moments of silence while the audience accustoms itself to the dark, Emile says that something just struck him. Josette says that she just had the very same thought. It's all very simple--they'll know in a couple of days if Josette's really pregnant. However, to make absolutely certain, Emile suggests to Josette that he go to work on a baby too--since that way he'll be equally sure of being the father. Josette doesn't say no.
As soon as the deed 's done, Josette switches the light back on and says to Emile: Wow! That was a hot one! Emile smiles. He says he finds Josette disgraceful (infame). No, she says, she is a woman (une femme).
Translation of Godard's screenplay
for Une Femme Est Une Femme lst appeared in English Edition of
Cahiers du Cinema.
It was republished in Jean-Luc Godard: A Critical Anthology (E.P. Dutton & Co, l968), Ed. Toby Mussman.
© l968 Michael Benedikt. This Webversion with fine-tunings © 2004 by Michael Benedikt.
Anthology also has Benedikt's essay on Godard's l965 film Alphaville: Alphaville & Its Subtext
Click image for New online edition of essay
Anna Karina in Alphaville
This A Woman Is A Woman site is listed among the comprehensive Godard links at Cinema=Jean-Luc Godard=Cinema
is a Contemporary US Poet who has also written much literary criticism, art
criticism & occasionally, film criticism. Together with theatre critic
George E. Wellwarth, he's Edited, Co-Translated, & written Introductions
for 3 anthologies of 20th-Century European plays: Modern French Theatre:
The Avant-Garde, Dada, & Surrealism (E.P. Dutton, l964); Post-War
German Theatre (Dutton, l967); and Modern Spanish Theatre (Dutton,
l969). He's also the editor of Theatre Experiment: American Plays
(Doubleday, l967), which like the European play volumes, also has Intros
by Benedikt to individual works included therein. Further Info on Benedikt's
theater interests & activities, & some related poems,
is a former Associate Ed. of the mass circulation art magazines Art News
and Art International, for which he reviewed art exhibitions for some
years. His literary criticism has appeared in Poetry, The American
Book Review, & elsewhere. Anthologies of poetry in translation which
he's edited & written Introductions for are The Prose Poem: An
International Anthology (Dell/Laurel, l976); and The Poetry of
Surrealism (Little, Brown & Co., l974). He also translated most of
the Surrealist poetry in the latter volume, which besides Eluard, includes
Desnos & Breton.
Benedikt is also a former Poetry Editor of The Paris Review--his
editorial selections are represented in The Paris Review Anthology
Benedikt has published 5 collections of poetry: The Badminton at Great Barrington (University of Pittsburgh Press, l980); & with Wesleyan University Press: Night Cries (prose poems, l976); Mole Notes (prose poems, l971); Sky (l970); and The Body (l968). His work appears in circa 70 anthologies of US poetry. Benedikt taught Literature & Creative Writing as Visiting Prof. at Bennington, Sarah Lawrence, Vassar, Hampshire College and Boston University. A graduate of NYU's Washington Square College & Columbia University, he lives in Manhattan.
Additional Info at About.Com
'The Compleat Michael Benedikt: Poet Laureate of the Net'
This New Page, posted early 1/04
Mount Laurel Lasik