4 March 2014 | StevePulaski
The cold lens of Godard
During the 1960's, Jean-Luc Godard made fifteen feature-length pictures that owed themselves to the French New Wave movement, where young, "reckless" filmmakers made audacious attempts to defy the conventions of mainstream French cinema. Godard among many others decided to figuratively illustrate the book of common cinematic conventions and proceed to rip them up before concocting their own rebellious form of filmmaking, which, overall, seemed to want to hit the bases of reality's imperfections, coldness in story and characters, violence, and the physical and metaphorical chaos of modern society.
Some of the above themes are what Godard uses to write and direct Vivre Sa Vie, a thought-provoking and consistently fascinating mood-piece, focusing on a woman by the name of Nana, played by the beautiful Anna Karina. Nana is a young Parisian twentysomething, aimlessly drifting through life after she leaves the safe but relatively unremarkable confines of her homelife, which involved a husband and a child. She's heavily strapped for cash, with her job as a shopgirl providing for what little income she already has, and soon realizes that leading a viable life on so little is just not a reality.
She decides to take up life as a prostitute, which she'll earn better money doing instead of the day-in-and-day-out drudgery of being a shopgirl. She becomes the employee of Raoul (Sady Rebbot), your average pimp who takes advantage of Nana's youngness and gorgeous looks in order to turn a profit.
Throughout the entire film, Godard conducts Vivre Sa Vie with pure, uneasy coldness, staging the picture into twelve separate chapters ("tableaus"). Each chapter, marked by a descriptive title-card, gives insight into Nan's particular stage in life at that moment in time and provides for a neatly-punctual little narrative that Godard smoothly orchestrates.
Vivre Sa Vie ("My Life to Live" in English) seems like a film that would be made in present times because of its documentary-style filmmaking (more formerly known as "cinéma vérité"). More informally, the film bears a slice-of-life realism to it that is just beginning to gain considerable momentum in American cinema and only proves that Godard was ahead of his time, making a film like this in 1962.
With the film's polished and clear videography, Godard strayed away from the hand-held-camera techniques of his earlier films such as Breathless and his final New Wave picture of the 1960's, Weekend. Godard uses what is known as a Mitchell camera to capture his carefully-framed and elegant shots that point where few cameras have pointed before. Godard continues to defy normalcy by pointing the camera at places uncommon, such as the back of Nana's head while she's speaking in conversation, or allowing the camera to hold in place during one long shot. Godard's camera techniques are aplenty and his ambition is most often met with an unexpected and very pleasant success.
Furthermore, Godard knows how to write meaningful, sometimes philosophical dialog that finds ways to be hugely relevant and even deeply-contemplative. Consider the scene where Raoul tells Nana the value of a prostitute, detailing her job description and her role as a woman without many rights and robbed of her individuality and her humanity. She's a piece of meat for lonely men searching for a quick sexual fix that often finds ways to be completely unsexual and unromantic. Raoul illustrates this idea of what it means to be a prostitute in the coldest, yet most fitting way possible.
Another conversation comes near the end, where Nana meets a random soul in a diner and strikes up a conversation. The man turns out to be a deeply thoughtful and wise man who seems to be looking for simple human companionship. Him and Nana have a delightfully philosophical conversation, showing that even two people who've never met one in another in their life possess the ability to connect with each other on an unexpected personal level, fulfilling one another in ways they never found foreseeable.
Make no mistake, however, that Vivre Sa Vie is a cold and often detaching film that leaves little room for connecting with the characters in any way. After viewing four Godard films, three of which from the French New Wave, detachment seems to be an overarching theme for reasons I'm not sure I can adequately explain. Godard seems unable to allow his characters to be more than just unmoving littler pawns in his cinematic game. Despite giving Nana several traits and some debatable motives, even she has her own coldness to her being. At this point, I'm waiting for the film where instead of pushing us about a foot away from the film, Godard grabs us in and gives us a setting, an event, or a more fleshed out character to connect with.
Starring: Anna Karina and Sady Rebbot. Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.