"Vivre sa Vie" (The Criterion Collection) DVD, Blu-ray Review

4/21/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Review

"Vivre sa Vie"

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, Written by Godard and Marcel Sacotte, 83 minutes, Not Rated

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Life is as strange as it is cruel. This is something French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard seems desperate to convey in nearly every one of his films, especially those in his highly productive '60s period. He started off rather light with "Breathless" and "A Woman is a Woman," but then in 1962, he followed up those films with "Vivre sa Vie" (English translation "My Life to Live"), a fragmented, intriguing, occasionally fun but ultimately tragic look at desperation and the pressures of society.

Subtitled "A Film in Twelve Scenes," "Vivre sa Vie" follows a young Parisian woman named Nana (played by Godard's then wife and ever-present muse Anna Karina) through a dozen vignettes showing her life at various stages following her decision to leave her family and become an actress. The film begins very simply--a scene in a cafe shows us Nana telling her husband she's leaving him, and in that very Godardian way we only watch the backs of their heads as they converse about their relationship, her potential as an actress, or just silly little everyday things. The next vignette shows Nana at her job at a record shop, occasionally asking her co-workers for some spare cash. This sequence is filmed in one shot that follows Karina back and forth across the store.

As the film continues, Nana decides to turn to prostitution to support herself as she attempts to break into acting. Godard's fascination with prostitution and the motivations behind it are prevalent in his later work as well, but it's definitely at the forefront here. Despite Nana's insistence that she has chosen this shady career of her own volition, her poverty and desperation have clearly forced her into it. One of the vignettes works as a sort of "Q&A" session for both Nana and the audience as we learn the various ins and outs of the prostitute's everyday activities.

"Vivre sa Vie" definitely tones down the more wild stylistic decisions of Godard's previous films, dropping the intrusive music and long, elaborate shots in favor of extensive close-ups, minimal music, and a generally serious tone. One vignette early in the film shows Nana going to a theater to see Carl Theodore Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc," and as Godard cuts back and forth from close-ups of Maria Falconetti in that film and Karina, the visual parallels between the two films are made quite literal. The film's visual style clearly had a big effect on Godard, whose obsession with these kind of close-ups would return big time in stuff like "Week End" and "Pierrot le fou."

Godard's biggest problem for me has always been his inability to hold back on excessive political dialogue in almost all of his work, and thankfully, despite this being a film that has more political and social context than a lot of his other films, he holds back on political stuff entirely in favor of almost exclusively naturalistic dialogue. Of course, even at his most naturalistic, Godard's dialogue is very vague and poetic, and it works very well here. Only a couple moments descend into Godard's more maddening and overdrawn philosophical speeches, and when these moments come up, they actually meld very well with the rest of the film (probably due primarily to the distinct 12-scene format).

Overall, "Vivre sa Vie" is probably the earliest entry in Godard's oeuvre that should be called truly great. "Breathless" has its moments and "A Woman is a Woman" is decent fun, but "Vivre sa Vie" is a relatively dense piece of work for a director who at the time was just developing his style, and it's also a far better introduction to the talented and gorgeous Anna Karina than "Woman." Beautiful, entertaining and tragic, this is definitely one of Godard's best of the '60s.

Grade: A

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  1. Spidy said...

    i shared it on facebook
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