- Vivre Sa Vie is Godard’s third released film. Its tone is certainly darker, less playful, than either Breathless or A Woman is a Woman– and after the flirtation with the wider screen and use of color in his 1961 musical release- he’s back to the aspect ratio: 1.37 : 1 and monochrome—both brilliant choices. The boxier screen lets Godard focus solely on his muse, Anna Karina, in these splendid, confining, claustrophobic close-ups. This is an examination of her character, Nana. Nana is a woman who leaves her family, tries to become an actress, and instead turns into a prostitute with a tragic, inevitable end.
- TSPDT’s consensus has this ranked as Godard’s fourth best- all of the top four between in Godard’s most fertile period- 1960-1965.
- Like most of Godard’s works at this time, this clocks in under 90 minutes
- Godard shot the film quickly and that honestly shows, “All I had to do was put the shots end to end. What the crew saw at the rushes is more or less what the public sees.” He tried to use first takes. “If retakes were necessary, it was no good.” https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-vivre-sa-vie–my-life-to-live-1963 .
- Michel Legrand minimal score is not only lovely, but Godard’s use of it is ingenious yet again- he picks up the needled and drops it where he wants—just when he feels like it may be getting too emotional he’ll stop it completely, seemingly randomly. He knows the effect of music and he’s trying to pull back the curtains and expose how it manipulates
- The use of close-ups is astonishing- opens with the titles and Karina in profile
- The film is shot in twelve chapters, Brechtian, telling you plainly what is about to happen. This should be paired with Varda’s Cleo From 5 to 7 also from 1962. The first chapter is shot entirely from behind Karina and is elliptically edited. The second chapter is one long take in the record shop, tracking Karina back and forth as she faces the camera. Chapter three is Dreyer’s Joan of Arc with cutaways to close-ups of Karina reacting. Then her begging for 2,000 francs as Godard’s camera oscillates back and forth- making you aware that there is a camera (entirely his point). Chapter four is the police interrogation in close-ups, profile again- Godard is intent on marrying his film to Dreyer’s and he’s successful (the close-ups as well). Karina’a Nana is a modern Joan. With her hair she is also a modern Louise Brooks and her tragic character, Lulu from Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, You’d see this homage later from Tarantino (Uma’s hair in Pulp Fiction), Demme (Something Wild). Chapter five again Godard’s camera just isolates and siloes Karina. Even in conversation the box frame is always on her. This is the role that must have been the envy of every New Wave actress of the era. There is not a great big pattern with the chapters– it is a mad collage, though chronological, and it may bother formalists— admirers of say Jarmusch’s work. If Godard had constructed the film with a stricter form in mind there’s a masterpiece in here- the potential for one. For example, chapter seven is largely Karina writing a letter by hand. Godard then oscillates the camera again behind the pimp’s head swinging back and forth. At least the oscillating is a pattern. Chapter eight is like a documentary in question and answer format on the ins and outs of prostitution in Paris. Chapter eleven is the long conversation between Karina’s Nana and philosopher Brice Parain. Chapter twelve Godard uses titles for dialogue that isn’t spoken (like A Woman is a Woman) but for the first time here. It is a little messy.
- The lack of pattern may be precisely the point—and the rough draft nature of the film is part of Godard’s postmodern (she often looks at the camera, too) reflexivity. He’s keeping you at a distance from the subject- there is no attempt to gain some larger insight, her motives, or gain sympathy. Her indifference and the indifference of those around her is chilling at times. It is a direct point A to point Z tragedy that is constantly, and purposefully, undercuts… it simply ends.
- Either way it is a masterful character study— with superior use of both the close-up as a cinematic weapon
- A Must-See film
Interesting review, i saw this at the theater the same day as Kane and was tremendously disappointed.
I honestly don’t understand the top 120 ranking, that’s a giant masterpiece.
As you mentioned, the most interesting are the chapters, but Godard is not a formalist like WKW.
Cleo is a good comparison (one of the best examples of form) but this movie is pretty messy, Cleo is the superior film.
I would quite agree with your score an HR / MS
I don’t know, maybe we’re missing something, i saw in an interview that Pawlikowski attributes the photography of his films to this film, perhaps we are missing an important photography achievement.
After watching this again (I think it’s my 3rd viewing) I started wondering if this could function as a Silent Film. I mainly thought about this due to Godard putting the Passion of Joan of Arc scene into the film, Chapter 3. Obviously some of the scenes would have to be altered but the dialogue is fairly minimal to begin with. Karina carries this film using body language, and facial expressions.