Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux (1962)


(director/writer: Jean-Luc Godard; screenwriter: from the book by Marcel Sacotte; cinematographer: Raoul Coutard; editor: Agnès Guillemot; music: Michel Legrand; cast: Anna Karina (Nana Kleinfrankenheim), Saddy Rebbot (Raoul), André S. Labarthe (Paul), G. Schlumberger (Yvette), Gérard Hoffman (Le chef), Monique Messine (Elisabeth), Paul Pavel (Journaliste); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pierre Braunberger; Fox Lorber; 1962-France-in French with English subtitles)

Highly innovative.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Much like “Breathless” Godard in his fourth feature creates a masterful tragedy of contemporary life that is emotionally draining about a character leading an underground and precarious life. It chronicles the life of a pretty Parisian 22-year-old Nana (Anna Karina), who slips into a life of prostitution to meet her expenses. Godard uses twelve episodes (with chapters such as “The Boulevards” or “The First Man” that have clinical titles one might find in a social caseworker’s notebook that show how their client lost control of their life through social and economic circumstances) to show in an unsentimental way her promising life as an aspiring actress and her death as a whore when caught in a shootout over money between rival gangs trying to own her. The original and highly innovative and stunning visual presentation, seemingly unrehearsed, has the look of a B-film pulp story that’s shot crisply in black and white by Raoul Coutard; it’s taken from a book by Marcel Sacotte.

The film opens with a quote from Montaigne, “lend yourself to others but give yourself to yourself,” which tells where Godard was reaching for philosophically.

In the opening chapter record store clerk Nana is having a breaking up conversation with her self-indulgent boyfriend Paul (André S. Labarthe) and their troubling conversation is filmed showing only the backs of their heads. He doesn’t understand her leaving, while she tells of wanting to be an actress more than anything else. What follows is the economic hardships for the high living young woman, who can’t pay the rent and finds her way out of this predicament by becoming a streetwalker. Soon she has a pimp Raoul (Saddy Rebbot), but upon meeting a young man and wishing to leave her pimp she finds herself sold to another group and her life ends tragically.

The downfall of the sensitive Nana, who can cry when seeing Carl Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” is deeply affecting as she’s someone with a good heart who can see the inner beauty of life but can’t escape from all the sordid externals. The prostitute role is also viewed as highly personal to the filmmaker, since Godard was married to Karina at the time, no matter how obliquely the filmmaker distances himself from the stylized narrative. The real-life dissolving relationship between director and star actress can be related to the film’s harsh relation of pimp to prostitute, making this one of Godard’s more intimate and highly charged films.


REVIEWED ON 10/24/2005 GRADE: A-