As she watches the films of Jean-Luc Godard while in lockdown, Joanna Walsh considers the boundaries of Paris, beauty, and desire—in life and film. She writes, “Before, I wanted to go to Paris because it was impossible for me. Now that Paris is impossible for anyone outside of Paris, I will act as though Godard’s Paris is completely possible.” The possible presents an enclosure to move against, through, and beyond.
My Life as a Godard Movie by Joanna Walsh will be published by Juxta Press in November 2021. The 6th book in the Words for Portraits series. It will retail for €12 and can be pre-ordered by emailing email@example.com.
It’s only when you’ve seen several Godard movies that you begin to understand what a Godard movie is.
I feel trepidation beginning to watch this film, but I’m too tired to work in any other way.
Fun . . . fun . . . I do not watch films for fun.
How is it to be a Parisien(ne) watching Godard’s Paris, locked down in a reality of his imagination? Or do Parisien(ne)s take it for granted that they live in a movie?
What do I miss when I miss Paris so much? What do they?
I greenscreen my Zoom background and drop in the interior of Godard’s apartment, where he filmed La Chinoise: white walls, blue door, blue-grey carpet, red chairs. The wall behind me now says: IL FAUT CONFRONTER LES IDÉES VAGUES AVEC DES IMAGES CLAIRES. 
(All this before I even begin to watch. All this to prepare myself.)
Like the apartment in La Chinoise, Godard films are an enclosed world. Nevertheless they attempt border crossings: in La Chinoise, the borders of an apartment; in Le Mépris, in Pierrot le Fou, the borders of a country; in Masculin Féminin (and Bande à Part), the borders of the city. Masculin Féminin doesn’t take place in Paris Paris but a Paris that’s being destroyed and a Paris that’s being built. Knowing there was no revolutionary potential in a beautiful city, why did Godard cling to revolutionary potential in beautiful girls?
(I have wanted to write this book for a long time.
Perhaps I can only write it now that Paris is no longer an option.)
Masculin Féminin’s Zoo Café just inside the eastern Périphérique, the ring road that separates Paris from Paris Paris, is possibly now C’stsers (3.9 on Google reviews: “10 tables per server is inhuman”). And I wish I were Chantal Goya, not because she was beautiful but because, replaying the film, she is still sitting in the café where they serve “confusingly banal” pancakes, because I can revisit her thereness in Paris as—not having filmed my life—I cannot revisit my own.
I think about Paris all the time. The last time I thought like this was the other time I was trapped by my life.
When I’m not in Godard, I feel displaced.
Near the possible cafe is a Villa Jean Godard (an impasse; a dead-end street), missing the Luc(k).
Before, I wanted to go to Paris because it was impossible for me. Now that Paris is impossible for anyone outside Paris, I will act as though Godard’s Paris is completely possible.
The last time I watched Masculin Féminin, I might have been the same age as Chantal Goya’s character, Madeleine: twenty-one. I remember the beauty but not the politics. Also I remember Goya’s beauty but not Jean-Pierre Léaud’s. I could not see Léaud for what he also was: a doll.
Léaud (unusually) presents as a man willing to be consumed.
(Belmondo presents as a man reluctant to be consumed.)
What happens when beauty becomes consumable?
Madeleine, a proto yé-yé pop star, shut in a recording booth alone, can hear her music through her headphones. All we hear is her voice responding. Madeleine sings, as the producer asks, “very sweetly” about love. She does not sing about any specific lover, just the feeling of desire, and yes, she sings “very sweetly” but without any desire at all. She sings not to persuade anyone to love her but to persuade listeners to buy the shell of desire her song provides, in which to lodge theirs. “I can’t hear my voice,” Madeleine complains. “There’s too much echo.” Her boyfriend, Paul (Léaud), enters her glass box uninvited. She ignores him. He returns to where only the producer can hear the whole song. Madeleine cannot hear her voice. Only Paul heard Madeleine’s voice sing both with accompaniment and alone, only Paul and us.
When asked what is the center of the world, Paul says, “Love”; Madeleine says, “Me.”
I like to see Madeleine ignore Paul. I like to see that her work is more important than her work’s subject; that she will not, IRL, do anything for love. When I first saw the film, this seemed evidence of her coldness. Now it is evidence of her devotion, but not her devotion to a man. When I first saw the film I was devoted to a man; now I am devoted to my work. I can be devoted to people, too, but, as Madeleine knows, one cannot replace the other.
Madeline, asked what she desires, says, “J’hésite.”
Real-life pop icon Françoise Hardy is seen briefly in the film, escorted from a U.S. embassy car into an official building wearing a ridiculous dress whose buttons and belt do not at all do their job but are mere ornament. Madeleine wears something similar, under a coat with a pocket embroidered with the letter c and a matching striped scarf bearing the letter g: not her character’s initials—M. K. for Madeleine Klimmer—but C. G.: Chantal Goya.
Mr. Director: can a woman’s beauty be privatized? Once shot, you can sell it, lend it, rent it. The more she shows her beauty, the more its value increases: value that she or you can vend. But being that value she becomes less contained, detaches from her background. You can no longer hold on to the beauty you have made together, which would not exist without the camera.
Masculin Féminin promises “15 faits précis” (fait = fact). Or “to do 15 precise acts” (fait = deed): two Godardian facets: truth and action. Perhaps they combine in “faits divers”: personal scandals in the local news, confined by intuited borders: a green square. I have been a local scandal, so local to myself I’ve not told it till now.
(ONE FAIT DIVERS I KNOW ABOUT ME:
Did I ever tell you I’m still alive because I went to Paris? Went to Paris, never having been there, but having a Paris to go to? Unhappily married (two words to stand in for so much), unable to decide to leave my green square, I thought (two words to stand in for so much) of death. Instead of dying, I went to Paris. The Eurostar was new; my ticket, a supermarket offer. I got up at 4:00 a.m., told no one, messaged to say I’d left early for work, would stay late. From the Gare du Nord I took the metro to Saint-Michel. Above ground I walked—tracing Paris’s borders—west, then north, crossed the river, found the hill, walked without stopping for eight hours till I came back to Paris Nord, where I took the train back to London. I did not even live in London, but three hours out: ten hours’ travel and eight hours’ walking: eighteen hours: a day, a day that saved my life.)
I went to Paris because of Godard, amongst others.
I went to Paris because Godard showed me beauty I could recognize within conventional beauty’s borders, but that beauty did not lead to that green square amongst square orange buildings. He showed me beauty as the power to say no or even, j’hésite. He showed me beauty decontextualized: beauty without romance.
“A relative liberty,” says Jean Pierre Léaud in the opening scene.
I could not relive my youth and make another choice.
THIS IS A HYMN TO JEAN-LUC(K) GODARD’S PARIS, WHICH SAVED MY LIFE.
AND ALSO WHICH CONDEMNED ME.)
 WE MUST CONFRONT VAGUE IDEAS WITH CLEAR IMAGES. I can’t trace this quote. It must not be Mao but Godard.
Joanna Walsh is a multidisciplinary writer for print, digital and performance. The author of seven books, she also works as a critic, editor and teacher. She is a UK Arts Foundation fellow, Markievicz Awardee in the Republic of Ireland, and the founder of #readwomen (2014-18), described by the New York Times as "a rallying cry for equal treatment for women writers."