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(Credit: Philippe R Doumic)

Film

Watch one of the most elusive films in cinema: an early short by Jean-Luc Godard

@SamWKemp

Back in 2017, one of Jean-Luc Godard’s rarest and most sought-after films arrived on YouTube. Une Femme Coquette is a nine-minute short masterpiece shot on a borrowed 16mm camera by a then-24-year-old director with no formal training. Despite its humble origins, for 40 years, the film has been hunted by cinephiles – all of them desperate to get their hands on what is one of the cinematic icon’s most elusive offerings.

Godard was one of the most significant directors of his generation. He was unkind, unreasonable, arrogant and frequently cruel, but he was undoubtedly a brilliant filmmaker. His 1959 film Breathless has served as the gateway drug to the dizzying world of French cinema for over 60 years. To this day, the anti-noir thriller is still as blisteringly cool as it was on release and endures as the flagship film of the French new wave.

Une Femme Coquette marks the beginning of Godard’s life as an independent man. After breaking from his family, he began earning his own money for the first time. He saved enough of his wages from his job at a dam company in the Alps that, in 1954, he was able to shoot and edit his first film, Opération ‘Béton, a documentary about the construction of the dam at La Grande Dixence. Godard had no contact with his family at this time but did receive word of his mother’s death. Although he went to the hospital from Geneva, he refused to attend the funeral.

Godard’s next cinematic endeavour would see him dip his feet into the world of narrative filmmaking. Based on a story by Guy de Maupassant, Une Femme Coquette tells of a young woman who decides to copy the gesture she has seen prostitutes making to passing men. She understands little of what are gesticulations actually mean until a young man (Rolan Tolmatchoff) responds.

It was never distributed and has had no more than six public screenings since the 1960s. Astonishingly, the only known 16mm print of the film is held in the national film archive in Europe, where it is being stored for a private owner. The film is to be loaned out only with the personal permission of the director.

Une Femme Coquette is so rare that is rarely mentioned at all in biographies about Godard. Indeed, so few have had the chance to see the film that many have summed it was lost long ago. Well, now, the film has been made available for all to see. If you haven’t already, make sure you check it out.