For Jean-Luc Godard, the beginning of a musical number is more important than the actual song. Or at least it seems that way in A Woman is a Woman. The film seems to be composed of a series of introductions to a musical number as the music starts and stops while someone speaks. The only scene that features anyone singing is when Angela performs her song at the club. What I noticed is that despite Godard’s attempts to call attention to the cinematic techniques during that scene, I found “Chanson d’Angela” filmed simply with its close-ups and filters for a song that celebrates the beauty of being her. Perhaps I am accustomed to the visual gymnastics of West Side Story’s “I Feel Pretty” or Flower Drum Song’s “I Enjoy Being A Girl" where the female runs around or admires her images in the mirror joyously in wide shots in Technicolor/Cinemascope. However, Angela’s performance like Cleo in Cleo from 5 to 7 and Catherine in Jules and Jim shows a certain self-awareness that perhaps Godard (and perhaps Varda and Truffaut) felt was missing from filming a woman singing about herself.
However, Godard does allude to the fantasy dance sequence normally featured in a musical. Normally, one person sings about an unrequited love and then comes the instrumental break where the two lovers are dancing on an obvious set. This scene occurs when Angela and Émile are walking around each other in the apartment without speaking to each other. At that point, Émile still has not given her want she wants, a baby. However, Alfred seems to love her more than Émile which he shows by playing a song for her from a jukebox. Here again, Godard twists a musical convention, the male singing his devotion for the woman he loves. But instead of Alfred singing, he chooses Charles Aznavour do it for him through a jukebox. As we hear Aznavour singing “Tu T’lassies Aller,” we see a series of close-ups of Angela reacting to the song. However, this scene could also be Godard’s love letter to Anna Karina forever preserved in film.
As a fan of musicals, I appreciate Godard’s take on the superficial nature of musicals but I still love them for its superficiality.