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Vivre sa vie

Director: Jean-Luc Godard


If you want an instance of the singular magic worked by a director and actress in perfect sync, look no further than Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina’s third collaboration, Vivre sa vie, which is being re-released in a new print. Nominally the story of a would-be actress who drifts into prostitution, its real subject is Karina’s magnetic screen presence in a series of twelve tableaux. She works in a record shop, tries to steal the key to her flat, goes to see Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, and ends up on the streets. There’s no ladled-on sentiment, yet it’s somehow despairing to see this self-contained young woman acquiesce so passively to ‘the life’. The restlessly inquisitive camerawork (nearly all first takes) makes us aware we’re watching her, hoping to understand what’s going on behind those doe eyes. Easy explanation is hardly Godard’s game, though we take the point about the ‘commodification’ of women in a male-dominated society.
Godard had married his Danish leading lady (real name: Hanne Karin Blarke Bayer) the year before, and their best work together heaves with an emotional register that’s absent from his other films. You can sense both enormous affection and a need to analyse why Karina’s so bewitching even when she seems to be doing very little ‘acting’ as such. There’s a significantly personal note when she and a lover read Poe’s The Oval Portrait, since it’s Godard himself we hear narrating the tale of an artist who spends so long perfecting a picture of his spouse that she expires. Karina, now past her sixtieth year, is still with us, but the notion’s prophetic: after Godard she was never so alive on screen again. Don’t miss the film Susan Sontag called ‘one of the most extraordinary, beautiful and original works of art that I know of’.’
France, 1962. English subtitles. Black and white. 85 mins.

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