Charlotte (Macha Méril) is a married woman, she has a husband, Pierre (Philippe Leroy), who is a pilot and therefore is out of the country fairly often, which frees her up to pursue other interests such as an affair with Robert (Bernard Noël), an actor she sees in afternoons. She does have a young son who has just started school, but that only means she has more time to herself which she can spend making love to someone other than her husband, who remains oblivious to being cuckolded. Robert likes to admire parts of her naked body and run his hands over her, but Charlotte is beginning to question the worth of her existence as defined by the men in her life who respond to their own needs more than hers...
Une Femme Mariée (a title change from La Femme Mariée demanded by the French censors to make it sound as if the title character was not the definitive married woman, but an example not to be taken as representative of them all) is usually forgotten in the barrage of in your face Jean-Luc Godard works of the sixties, possibly because it was among his most meditative efforts from this period. Much of it was designed to come across as a leaf through a women's magazine with all its articles, adverts and illustrations, to the extent that for some of the time the director presented montages with narration of precisely those visuals, after all, what could be more feminine than a succession of images of lingerie?
Many are suspicious of men who claim to be standing up for women's rights, adopting the feminist approach to regard how the female form and psyche are treated in the mass media as well as day to day life, for the reason that they believe these men have an ulterior motive and are trying to, shall we say, ingratiate themselves with the opposite sex, so when someone like Godard was promoting an anti-sexist point of view some years before the women's liberation movement was really taking off in the following decade, you could see him as a pioneer. Except when you saw how keen he was to depict women in sexual situations in his oeuvre, that could well prompt a cynicism towards what, ultimately, he was getting at here, and even in this case Méril shows far more than many of her contemporaries do.
In practically her first scene the leading lady is nude, and though Godard prefers to be coy, with shot after shot of Méril's hands, legs, back or tummy, there's no denying she does wander around her lover's apartment (and briefly outside it) wearing nothing but a large pair of knickers, sparing the rest of her blushes with her arms. So was this supposed to show a woman growing comfortable with her body, or was titillation the goal - maybe both? It's easy to leave Une Femme Mariée in two minds, for when we hear Charlotte's thoughts she speaks them in a meek whisper, while in other sequences she ends up lectured by males far more forthright in their opinions than she is able to muster, again harking back to the sense of poring over a magazine article to find out what you should be thinking.
On occasions, this can be unnerving, a tension between Charlotte and the men palpable: see the part where she is in an apartment and puts on a record designed to help out married couples in the bedroom which turns out to be the sound of a woman laughing in discomfitingly manic fashion: when Charlotte's partner tells her to turn it off or he will rape her, it's as if there's a violence in keeping her and her gender in her place rumbling below the surface, no matter if he was joking or not (and it's difficult to tell). The issues of the Second World War are present in that respect, drawing parallels between the Holocaust and their echoes in the decade twenty years after, which might be something of a stretch, but is all part of the texture of the piece and emphasises Godard's sincere intent, or so you would hope, as his protagonist finds her feet and begins to characterise herself as an individual rather than an accessory through her growing inquisitiveness. But was Godard the equivalent of the bloke at the party boasting of his right-on credentials yet set on bedding a woman by the end of the night? Perhaps.