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This film explores a Parisian woman's descent into prostitution. The movie is comprised of a series of 12 "tableaux"-- scenes which are basically unconnected episodes, each presented with a worded introduction. Written by
Alan Katz <email@example.com>
So far in my exploration of Jean-Luc Godard I have remained in his masterful decade of the '60s, and as a result I've been treated mostly to films that are fun and exciting, toying with structure and cinematic conventions. Vivre Sa Vie fits firmly in his career, but it's also a surprising contrast to his other work which I have seen so far. Even in his more narratively focused Breathless, there's still a very cinematic quality to it, portraying a sense of freedom of expression and romanticism. Vivre Sa Vie strips away all of that and elects instead to present an almost documentarian look into the descent of the young Nana (Anna Karina, naturally) into prostitution.
The structure of the film is split into twelve episodes that bring us through Nana's progression. She's a young Parisian girl working at a record shop who wants to be in the movies, but needs money to pay her rent. It's a simple story, but the way Godard tells it is what makes it so intriguing. He presents Nana as an object of desire to many but an object of interest to very few. The men around her aren't interested in what she has to say, they put up with her words in order to get to what they are really looking for, her body and ways to profit off of it.
Karina's dance scene is classic Godard, but his unique approach to this film makes it much less freeing than in his other works. The dance in Band of Outsiders is a jaunty display of youthful rhythm and A Woman Is A Woman is loaded with fun numbers, but here the art of dance takes on an entirely different, and much more tragic, meaning. For Nana, it's a desperate plea to get attention using the only thing that she knows how, her body. In regards to the film, Godard stated, "The few episodes in her life that I am going to film are very likely of little interest to others, but most important to Nana," and I feel that he accomplished his goal very well here.
These episodes to most would seem relatively mundane, just normal days in the life of a prostitute, conversations and interactions of the daily routine, but for Nana they mean so much more. Her trip to the cinema to see The Passion of Joan of Arc has become almost iconic in Godard's legacy, and for good reason. In this moment Godard removes us from our state as voyeurs and instead plays us into Nana's position. He displays Nana as the film viewer, presenting the kind of emotional impact and life revelation that cinema can have on someone and getting the audience to completely empathize with her. Nana becomes the audience and, as a result, the audience becomes her.
The descent into prostitution is intriguing here, thanks in large part to the captivating and expressive work by Godard's muse, but Godard's metaphor for the life of an actress is also a fascinating theme that one can't help but notice. Displays Nana as the prostitute in her world of pimps and photographers, people passing her back and forth like a piece of meat, it certainly seems that he's making a statement on the film industry and the nature of exploitation in how actors are treated. They are passed back and forth by directors, producers, even the audience, and used for their image, much like a prostitute, and it's up to the actress to keep themselves in tact. As the opening quote of the film states, "Lend yourself to others. But give yourself to yourself".
I've seen people refer to the film as the "morning after" state of the Godard/Karina dynamic and I think that's an interesting way of looking at it. They had collaborated several times before, and would collaborate for many years after still, but Vivre Sa Vie seems to be the most intimate and exposing look into the relationship between the two of them as lovers and the relationship between actor and director at large. It's a very introspective journey that Godard takes us on, and certainly one of the most impressive I've seen from him yet.
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