Today I went with my brother David to the Bloor Cinema to see Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie (1962), starring Anna Karina (who, by the way, must be one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen on screen – and she was also Godard’s wife at the time the movie was being made!). I’m writing about it here because it caught my attention on many levels and left me thinking about it long after the screen went black and the words “La Fin” told me I was free to go.
First of all, the film was really interesting on a purely visual level. Godard and his fellow New Wave filmmakers were part of a movement that was deliberately taking moviemaking beyond the rigid, realism-based style of Classical Hollywood. In other words, you can tell that this film is a film, and it’s not aspiring to look like you’re viewing an uninterrupted slice of real life. You get scenes with obvious jump cuts, sequences where you view two characters talking without ever seeing their faces (!), and music that abruptly starts and stops for no reason. I find it refreshing when both you and the director can admit that you’re viewing a piece of artifice.
For all the artificiality and flourishes, however, Godard probably deals with more social issues in his movies than your average Hollywood director. Vivre Sa Vie tells the story of Nana, a struggling actress who turns to prostitution to make money. You can be sure that Godard was pointing the finger at problems in contemporary French society, and that Nana’s downward spiral wasn’t really her fault. Do I agree with his leftist political commentary and his tendency to blame big social forces over an individual’s choices? I can’t say he represents my point of view, but I find it interesting to read a film on a sociological and political level.
You also find a good smattering of existentialism and random philosophy that seemed to be fashionable in the mid-20th century. To be honest, most philosophical texts are way too dense for me to enjoy, so seeing bits and pieces of it in films makes it easier to digest! One of my favourite sequences in the movie (which was divided up into 12 parts) is in a café, where Nana and a random stranger discuss the meaning of words and truth. You can watch it below, and if you find the dialogue too pretentious (which it probably is), you can enjoy watching Anna Karina.
Speaking of which, even when I don’t really like a French New Wave film, I always enjoy it on an aesthetic level. The clothes, the makeup, the hair, the surroundings, the now-retro feel. I liked how Anna Karina’s look seemed to be a reference to Louise Brooks, another fashion inspiration to many people.
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