Vivre Sa Vie (Jean-Luc Godard, 1962)
Anna Karina (Nana), Brice Parain (The philosopher), Sady Rebbot (Raoul), André S. Labarthe (Paul). Screenplay by Jean-Luc Godard. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Rating: 15. Running time: 83 minutes.
It’s no coincidence that Godard’s wife and New Wave muse, Anna, has only had her name changed to Nana for the purposes of Vivre Sa Vie. The film is as much a paean to her as it is an indictment of both capitalism and commodification. It also goes without saying that, even here playing a prostitute, Miss Karina’s naked body is nowhere in site, completely protected from our eyes. Godard can’t even bring himself to let a man kiss her without her putting up a fight and showing signs of emotional distress, as if before her work has even started she feels completely molested. But that’s undoubtedly a good thing. Like Audrey, she’s beautiful, but she is too delicate, too vulnerable to ever be sexually attractive in that way. And this is what makes the footage of her prowling the streets of Paris looking for male clients such an absurdly paradoxical image. She belongs amongst riches, we intuitively think. She’s deserved only by the best of men. Her fate should not be to degrade herself, subjected to such a life purely by virtue of her socioeconomic situation.
But that’s how it is. Godard hammers the message home: she may think she chose the life of prostitution freely, but in the end only her inability to afford her rent is what drove her to do it. And the whole process itself, whilst professing to be the sale of ‘love making,’ is necessarily rendered insane by the fact it is sex that’s being sold. When even this most intimate of human activities can be purchased for pleasure, in the same way the pinball and jukebox machines we’re constantly shown can be, then what does this say about the world we live in? For Godard, exemplified by the banal-voiced narration that describes the laws surrounding prostitution, we should have nothing but contempt for the commercialisation of such a thing. And it’s through sympathy for Nana that these sentiments are drawn out.
That sympathy is unavoidable. Vivre Sa Vie knows it is tragic and spends nearly all of its 12 Brechtian-tableaux style chapters showing progressively worse aspects of Nana’s life. The two exceptions are, first, Nana’s one night of pleasure: in a bar, dancing to a record; the joy in her face is completely irresistible. Second, a scene Godard must have been dying to make for a long time: a straight forward conversation between a philosopher and Nana herself. Godard is quoted as saying that if Descartes had lived during his lifetime, Meditations would have been a documentary. Here he just lets loose accordingly and subjects us to a discussion of the limits of expression, and the usefulness of speech.
Other than this, though, (and the latter scene does feel disjointed) the focus is on Nana’s decline. It’s told as much by reference to art as it is by actual events, and it feels as quiet as it is incredibly short. But that reflects, it turns out, the nature and length of her life. Not that this is a surprise. She was, after all, brutally but beautifully a product of her environment.
Filed under: drama, french new wave | 1 Comment
Tags: anna karina, brice parain, jean-luc godard, michel legrand, my life to live, nana, new wave, paris, prostitute, prostitution, vivre sa vie