Godard's self-proclaimed "second first film" marked the rebirth of an innovator, after a long tenure in the critical wilderness during the 1970s. Small wonder that the main characters are an ornery nonworking movie director (Dutronc) and a matter-of-fact prostitute (Huppert) going about her business. Packed with abrupt visual beauty, their stories make for a two-tracked essay in frustrated relationships and early-to-mid-life enervation, leavened with the auteur's clipped absurdism.
The drama, such as it is, is the fluid mix of political and personal that would become common for a director too often pegged as cryptic. Godard the character---that's also the actual name of Dutronc's 1980s-spiffy malcontent---tacks between barbed and jaggedly affectionate exchanges with his lover (Baye), and ex-wife and daughter. Meanwhile, Huppert's working girl performs for johns with a resigned dutifulness and an occasional youthful amusement. (One client becomes an obscene version of the filmmaker at work, giving elaborate directions for a factory-like orgy scheme.)
Godard's sense of craft is as acute as ever, using slowed-down film and gorgeous colors (courtesy of cinematographers William Lubtchansky, Renato Berta and Jean-Bernard Menoud) to reflect varied human rhythms. "If I had the strength, I'd do nothing," his proxy says. It's to our benefit that Godard stayed weak.