Vivre sa vie: film en douze tableaux J-L Godard (Fr 1962) Anna Karina, Eddie Constantine (spectre)
viewed Tyneside Cinema 5th July 2016; ticket
I film therefore I am
After the opening title sequence Godard’s Vivre sa vie cuts to a long durational close shot in which the camera, tracks between a couple who are seated beside each other on bar stools at the counter of a café. They are talking about the nature of their relationship and its break up. As the camera tracks back and forth across the space between them, only one of them is ever in frame, and the shot set up is from behind, so that as they talk, we see only the back of a head.
The what is said by this shot is in itself both witty and analytic. It allows the camera to express the opening concepts of alienation, separation within a context of movement. The wit lies in emotionally de-saturating the dialogue from faciality as Nana and her ex talk about the failure of their relationship her beef about his attempts to control her and his economic angle as Nana’s ex signs off with the observation that as a musician, Nana is leaving him because he is poor. The ultimate deficiency in a culture based on consumption rather than production.
With Anna K playing the role of Nana Godard’s film is in content, a modernist rephrasing of Zola’s eponymous novel charting the transformation of a young operetta star into a high class prostitute, whose allure and cold blooded exploitation of her sexuality destroy all the men who become infatuated with her.
The power of Nana’s presence is described by Zola as a psychic emanation that irresistibly attracts male desire. Godard’s transposes elements of the Zola story. But because this is now an image driven culture, his Nana in the form of Karina, exists as an object of desire for the camera. It is Godard’s camera that loves her image embraces and devours her. When Nana leaves her job in the record shop and takes up prostitution, her male clients barely seem to notice her. Throughout the film the men are self absorbed, as if playing pinball or engaging in masturbation, they barely notice Nana. She is simply someone they pay. Unlike their wives or girlfriends they have to shell out coin.
The ethos of cool detachment pervades Vivre sa vie. The guys all wear coats turned up at the collar as they move through a world of artefacts, cafes, and automobiles. The women, immaculately coiffed and kitted out with couture outfits and shoes. It is a world without emotion, the world of advertising, where there are settings backdrops and product display.
But Godard fixes his movies with pure concept. To oppose Nana’s image defined world he uses a number of cinematic devices, simply interpolated that he cuts into the body of the film. Like the chapter headings they comprise a breaking up of flow, an opening up different idea spectra about what we are seeing.
The intercutting of a section of Dreyer’s The Passion of Jean d’Arc. Godard uses a scene with Artaud, theoretician of the theatre of cruelty who plays the monk, Massieu questioning Falconetti’s Jeanne. The Material grilling the Spiritual. A section of Edgar Allen Poe, the master of unnameable dread (uncool) is read on camera and later during one of Nana’s assignations with a client, the results of the statistical survey of Parisian prostitution are intoned as voice over.
There are two more extraordinary interpolations inserted of the body of the film. The scene where a guy mimes the process of a little boy blowing up a balloon. As performance it is intense funny and suddenly in its intensity and power feels like a transposition of male ejaculation. A hyper parody of inexistent sexuality. In a nondescript section of a cafe, Nana and a Philosopher talk about life specifically focusing on ‘love’ (uncool) at the end of their discussion. Unlike the tracking two shot at the front of the movie, this is shot full face with and pans from Nana to the Philosopher, with the Philosopher finally concluding, in response to Nana’s question that love is real “…on condition it is true.”
In a culture of image how to find what is true and be able to distinguish it from what is not true? In a world of mirrors….
Eddie Constantine appears as a spectre throughout Vivre sa vie. His presence as an image inside Nana’s head a constant source of reference. And it is almost as if he were in the film, and if you squint your eyes you may see him.
With Godard, film doesn’t just think, it lives and breaths a world of unseen possibilities . adrin neatrour email@example.com