A new Godard title is cause enough for excitement, so you can imagine the seismic force with which the news of a new old Godard hit cinephiles across the globe last week. In 1955, a 24-year-old Jean-Luc Godard directed his second short and his first stab at fiction, Une Femme Coquette. The 9-minute film, never distributed and screened only a handful of times, turned up on Australian critic and director David Heslin’s YouTube channel on 15 February.
Une Femme Coquette had earlier been the subject of a 2014 AV Club piece by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, which disclosed that a 16mm print—possibly the only one—was being stored in an unspecified national film archive in Europe. Whether this is the source for the uploaded film isn’t known; Vishnevetsky had written that the owner of the print would only loan it out with Godard’s permission.
For this 9-minute film—made five years before he burst on to the scene with Breathless—Godard adapted Guy Maupassant’s short story Le Signe (The Signal). A woman named Agnes writes a letter to a friend about her brush with infidelity, which we then see play out. On her way home, she notices a prostitute looking down from her window and enticing passers-by with her gaze. She decides to test the power of her own flirtatiousness on a stranger, with unexpected consequences.
Une Femme Coquette is the work of a beginner—a promising one. You can see the future Godard in the unadorned location shooting (the setting is Île Rousseau, Geneva), in the beautiful tracking shot on the bridge, in the unexpected poetry of the line, “They were lost in my soul like clouds drifting apart by the wind on a greyish background where the sun was heading”, and, more than anything, in the playfulness of it all. You can also literally see Godard around the 2-minute mark, wearing his trademark shades.
In his 2008 book Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life Of Jean-Luc Godard, Richard Brody praised the film’s theme of imitation becoming reality, of “trying to live what one has watched”. “Godard’s first fictional film is about the perilous path that he was taking as he sought to enter the cinema,” he wrote, “and it anticipates the moral dangers that awaited him there.” Now, at least until the film remains online, you can see Godard’s first steps down this path whose trajectory he would soon be shaping.