The film stars French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud as Paul, a romantic young idealist and literary lion-wannabe who chases budding pop star, Madeleine (Chantal Goya, a real life Yé-yé girl). Despite markedly different musical tastes and political leanings, the two soon become romantically involved and begin a ménage à quatre with Madeleine’s two roommates, Catherine (Catherine-Isabelle Duport) and Elisabeth (Marlène Jobert).
Ostensibly basing his film on two stories by Guy de Maupassant, Godard mixes off-the-cuff reportage and mise en scène to create a strikingly honest portrait of youth and sex (in France, the movie was prohibited to persons under 18 — “the very audience it was meant for,” griped Godard — while the Berlin Film Festival named it the year’s best film for young people), with Godard’s camera probing his young actors in a series of vérité-style interviews about love, love-making, and politics.
More than any other film of Godard’s heyday Masculin, féminin is a time capsule of France and Paris in the 1960s, with references to everyone from Charles de Gaulle and André Malraux to James Bond and Bob Dylan, and — true to the Godard style — filled with jokes, puns and non-sequiturs, the story repeatedly interrupted by seemingly extraneous incidents: a woman blows away her husband; a scene paraphrased from LeRoi Jones’ Dutchman; Brigitte Bardot rehearsing the lines of a play in a bistro; a Swedish sex-cum-art-film-within-a-film, with Léaud stalking off just when things get hot on-screen — going outside to climb the external stairs that lead to the projectionist, where he delivers a lecture on aspect ratio; a pinball arcade where an armed thug gives Léaud a choice between life and death, and surprises the audience with a third alternative; spray-painting anti-war slogans on walls, and more.
The most famous quote from the film is actually an intertitle between chapters: "This film could be called The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola."