Godard’s another challenge to the traditional film-making techniques here. This is during the height of his power and creativity and yes the days of French new-wave. ‘Vivre sa vie’ is a 1962 French film directed by Jean-Luc Godard. The title means “To live her life”.
Vivre sa Vie’ is an important film, made in early 60s, the title mean very much of what really the film is about. This is more important of how the French society’s dissemination of the economic transition and people get trapped to superficies of changing urban times and the choice one make and the outcome that follow.
Watching this film again, many years later, promptly passages one to the era where an impromptu statement, a indolent cigarette smoke, a sidelong glance, individual alienation, a cynical outburst saying “I do not care”, could all communicate profound, societal pressures, postwar malaise, and infinite possibility. Watching Anna Karina as Nana is enchanting and Godard had it all to nerve and excites us with this beautiful film.
‘Vivre Sa Vie’ is the tragic story on a woman’s slow descent into prostitution and death. The film is about Nana, a beautiful Parisian in her early twenties who deliberately leaves her husband and her infant son hoping to become an actress. She will be in a situation of want of money, earns as a shop girl and unable to enter acting, she prefer to earn better money as a prostitute. Soon she has a pimp, Raoul, who after an unspecified period agrees to sell Nana to another pimp. During the exchange the pimps argue and in a gun battle Nana is killed. Nana’s short life on film is told in 12 brief episodes each proceeded by a written resume. Godard‘s quirky introduction of these tableaux are worth a note as some are very philosophical, with high-brow dialogue. Few are very precise describing the rule of being a prostitute; some are very character driven and honestly looks complex in its approach
I am great admirer of Godard’s work, it’s a great education and level of learning is immense watching this movie. Godard also has a unique way of connecting the film together- It’s in a layout much like a book, being split into 12 chapters, each taking on an important aspect/theme of the film. Here are the inter titles on the screen and as follows
- Tableau one: A bistro – Nana wants to leave Paul – Pinball
- Tableau two: The record shop – 2000 francs – Nana lives her life
- Tableau three: The concierge – The passion of Joan of Arc – a journalist
- Tableau four: The police – Nana is questioned
- Tableau five: The outer boulevards – the first man – the hotel room
- Tableau six: Yvette – a café in the suburbs – Raoul – machine gun fire
- Tableau seven: The letter – Raoul again – the Champs Elysees
- Tableau eight: Afternoons – money – wash-basins – pleasure – hotels
- Tableau nine: A young man – Nana wonders if she’s happy
- Tableau ten: The sidewalk – a man – there’s no gaiety in happiness
- Tableau eleven: Place de Chatelet – the stranger – Nana the unwitting philosopher
- Tableau twelve: The young man again – the oval portrait – Raoul sells Nana
The movie begins with three silhouettes of Anna Karina, left profile, full face, right profile. It’s a Louise Brooks hairstyle, typical of Berlin’s look of 1920s, influenced by the German playwright Bertolt Brecht, a key figure from that era. This is Godard’s first time experiment was a major inspiration on the film’s style. You can also look into the screen depictions of moral conflicts between characters who speak usually with their backs turned.” The opening scene, shot in a series of long, carefully composed shots, immediately puts this plan into practice by showing Nana from behind at the bar of a café as she talks with her husband who she is leaving for another man.
This film marks as the original sources is a study of contemporary prostitution- ‘Vivre sa vie’ was released shortly after Cahiers du cinema (the film magazine for which Godard occasionally wrote) published an issue devoted to Bertolt Brecht and his theory of ‘epic theatre’. Godard may have been influenced by it.
Further this film depicts the consumerist culture of Godard’s Paris and his continued obsession with under sustaining themes and the place of the individual in the modern world, which are beyond his own personal disquiets. The very Nana inhabits a Paris of coffee bars, a shiny new world of cinemas, neon-lit pool halls, pop records, photographs, wall posters, pin-ups, pinball machines, juke boxes, foreign cars, the latest hairstyles, typewriters, advertising, gangsters and Americana. It also features allusions to popular culture; for example, the scene where a melancholy young man walks into a cafe, puts on a juke box disc, and then sits down to listen. The unnamed actor is in fact the well-known singer-songwriter Jean Ferrat, who is performing his own hit tune “Ma Môme” on the track that he selects in the cafe.
Godard is known mostly for his quick cuts and sudden edits and yet this film has very few of them. He marks a significant change in style from his earlier movies. If you look at the camera in ‘Breathless’ it’s much of a movement and used heavier equipment under more traditional conditions, light the locations fittingly and captured direct sound at the time of filming, rather than overdubbing later. These conventional methods required a larger crew, which made each set-up more time consuming to prepare.
Here in a very theatrical spirits, he provides more time to unfold camera allowing Anna Karina to give a sustained performance. The film expresses how the camera looks at the characters in the film and the things going on around them, and in many ways the camera is a character of its own. Godard uses themes that he has used in many of his films before like for instance the dance Nana does around her pimp and his comrades. This film perceived as a showcase for Anna Karina’s aptitude for her performance, and used a striking frame connecting between independent perspective of the camera and the personal perspective of the character, which the director is able to capture the enchanting mode of the artist and also delicately shown her helplessness (skin into the character) during those vulnerable movements of she trying hard to be a movie star in the movie. Her dreams of becoming an actress are over turned, her escapades asserts her short lived freedom, manipulated by men until she ends up as nothing more than a commodity to be bought and sold between rival pimps. The spiteful irony reaches its inevitable inference in the film’s last scene
Godard recalls while the making of a movie, Karina was resentful about her appearance in the film. “She was furious afterwards because she thought I had made her look ugly, that I had done her a considerable wrong by having made this film; that was the beginning of our breakup.” He further added that a film that should have brought them closer together drove them further apart
This movie marks his personal story too, as he derives the opening scene dialogue from his own experience of his women’s infidelity. She warns and tells her husband Paul how she is exhausted and want to leave him. “If we get back together, I’ll betray you again,” and blames him for preventing her from fulfilling her ambitions as an actress. In the film’s eleventh sequence, Nana’s young lover reads to her from Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Oval Portrait”. It is not the actor’s voice on screen we hear but Godard himself who recites the passages.
Each frame captured by the camera is mastermind. In Vivre sa vie, Godard borrowed the aesthetics of the cinema verite approach to documentary film-making that was then becoming fashionable. However, this film differed from other films of the French New Wave by being photographed with a heavy Mitchell camera, as opposed to the light weight cameras used for earlier films. The visual depiction from scene to scene is casts a spell on viewers, and especially Raoul Coutard, the main Godard’s cinematographer who worked alongside creating interesting camera shots of the back of a character’s head, or tracking shots that slowly move back and forth pulling some people out and bringing other people into the frame. Godard has said, “The film was made by sort of a second presence, the camera is not just a recording device but a vibrant looking device, that by its movements makes us aware that it sees her, wonders about her, glances first here and then there, exploring the space she occupies, speculating.”
This is one of the gloomy films of Godard- Vivre sa Vie enjoys an extremely positive critical reputation. Susan Sontag, author and cultural critic, has described Godard’s achievement in Vivre sa vie as “a perfect film” and “one of the most extraordinary, beautiful, and original works of art that I know of.
According to critic Roger Ebert, “The effect of the film is astonishing. It is clear, astringent, unsentimental, and abrupt.”
- Written & Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
- Produced by Pierre Braunberger
- Screenplay by Marcel Sacotte
- Starring Anna Karina; Sady Rebbot; André S. Labarthe; Guylaine Schlumberger & Gérard Hoffman
- Music by Michel Legrand
- Cinematography by Raoul Coutard
- Editing by Jean-Luc Godard & Agnès Guillemot
- Distributed by Panthéon Distribution
- Run time of 85 minutes
- Country: France
- Language: French