|Masculin, féminin (1963)/ Jean-luc Godard|
Jean Pierre Leaud is, at best, an aberration. He is the passerby who has mistakenly landed onto the set – the lost tourist on his way to the airport. His is not a performance of lucid clarity, but of muddled confusion. He is nearly always indulged in a state of interrogation: ‘Are women magic?’ in Day for Night, but most potently, the final freeze-frame of 400 Blows. And also in Stolen Kisses and Irma Vep. He is also always a near mess, with a semi-mullet that resembles the chaos of a retreating army and a physical frame of a scarecrow. His face betrays a lack of any specific conviction or even faith in anything at all – a quality manifest most resolutely in Godard’s double-bill, Masculin, féminin and La Chinoise – in which Leaud plays a youth who misunderstands sloganeering for ‘political action’ (much like Godard himself). The opening scene of Masculin, féminin in the café is one of the most painful ever, simply because of how incredible ridiculous Leaud’s character is – ‘only time where Leaud was anxious in front of the camera’, wrote Truffaut to Godard in a vicious letter. But perhaps that is an overestimation by Truffaut of his own effect on Leaud as an actor-on-sets, because there is hardly a moment that he is not anxious in front of the camera – restless, he always has a train to catch. Leaud functions on the other end of the spectrum as Belmondo; the latter is ‘Mr. Know-it-all’, Leaud is ‘Mr.Know-nothing-at-all’. With shoulders arranged in a perpetual shrug and the most lifeless pair of eyes since I Walked with a Zombie, he ties in for the leading man with the most insolvably troubled soul with only one other man.