Vivre Sa Vie (1962, Jean-Luc Godard)

Subtitled “a film in twelve tableaux,” it’s broken up by numbered chapter title cards.

Chapter One:

A Warholian credits open, long-held shots of a self-conscious-looking Anna, each take with music at first then dying off. Sets a mournful tone for the movie, which plays like a hard-luck tragedy, even if Anna herself rarely seems disappointed. It also sets up the viewer for the playfully offbeat formal choices that will be made for the next 80 minutes, as if the “film by Godard” credit didn’t already prepare for that. JLG must’ve taken a page from Fellini – just because you’re making a depressing movie about the downward spiral of a prostitute doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way.

Chapter Two:

Karina, in her second film with husband Godard (not counting the silent short in Cleo from 5 to 7), is our star. Hardly anyone else appears in the movie for more than a few minutes, but she’s stylish and vivacious enough to carry the picture. Her co-star would be the camera, always doing something interesting, but in a showy, look-at-me way, Godard in the phase when he was pointedly giving the finger to convention while still trying to make a viable movie with a story and character.

Chapter Three:

This cop is questioning Anna about a minor crime, if picking up money that someone else dropped is a crime at all. Highlights include this reaction shot of the cop, and Anna’s concluding line, “I… is someone else.”

Chapter Four:

Film references: in an early scene she repeats a line a few times, saying “I just wanted to deliver that line a specific way.” She watches The Passion of Joan of Arc, her reactions shot in Dreyerian close-ups, then goes to a diner that has posters for Un Femme est un femme and L’Amérique insolite (and something in Japanese). A prostitute (below) stands under a giant torn poster for Spartacus, and later Anna stands before The Hustler (ha) and Danny Kaye in On The Double. More than once, Anna tells people she was in a movie with Eddie Constantine some months ago (technically true – Eddie appeared in the silent Varda short). And on the final car ride, they pass a nice big poster for Jules and Jim.

Chapter Five:

The fourth feature Godard made, the third to be released to theaters, the eleventh that I’ve watched. The fifth Godard feature that I’ve written about here, and probably my favorite of these five. Scored an 8/10 from IMDB user ratings, which is good – like Avatar good.

Chapter Six:

M. Atkinson:

You can’t miss his self-awareness here—the movie’s signature move is a “close-up” of the back of Karina’s head as she chats with offscreen men … Godard’s shots were always about how he felt about what he saw, and this composition is the equivalent of looking but not seeing, of turning your star’s expressive power into offscreen space, of admitting to the world that, though you love this woman, you do not know her.

Chapter Seven:

One episode is like a educational film on prostitutes. I don’t remember which one. Maybe this one.

Chapter Eight:

Nice music by Michel Legrand, a short theme repeated endlessly, but not to annoyance, and of course the sharp cinematography by Raoul Coutard.

Chapter Nine:

Won a couple prizes in Venice, nominated alongside Lolita and Knife in the Water and Mamma Roma and Therese, while Tarkovsky and Zurlini shared the top prize.

Chapter Ten:

In the second-to-last chapter she sits down for a chat, “a philosophical café discussion about the difficulty of truth telling with Brice Parain, a famous French philosopher who paved the way for the poststructuralists by maintaining that language begat humanity, not the other way around.” I’ll bet Parain would get a kick out of Pontypool.

Chapter Eleven:

Of course she dies suddenly at the end. This was before screenwriters had figured out how to end a movie without killing a main character. I can’t figure exactly who was responsible for her death, or what went on in the final scene. It’s not important.

Chapter Twelve:

Buy from Amazon:
Vivre Sa Vie: Criterion Blu-ray

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