After separating from her husband, provincial shop assistant Nana (Anna Karina, then-wife of director Jean-Luc Godard) decides that she wants to become an actress. However, while watching the silent film classic 'The Passion of Joan Arc', all Nana's ambition seeps away, and she ends up working the streets of Paris as a prostitute.
To say that Jean-Luc Godard's fourth feature, Vivre sa vie
(1962), is about a young Parisian woman who drifts into prostitution would be roughly as useful as saying that Taxi Driver
is about the problems facing the Manhattan transportation system. It's true that Godard did, in the 60s, seem to have a bee in his bonnet about the oldest profession, and it went on to buzz ever more angrily the more he cuddled up to the doctrines of Marx, who instructed him that under late capitalism we are all prostitutes. It's also true that one section of Vivre sa vie
, which is divided up into a dozen tableaux, offers a bland, documentary-style account of the French sex industry that could have been made for a news and current affairs slot.
Even so, it's clear--especially four decades on--that whoredom is only one of the many topics on Godard's hyperactive brain. The scenes which you take away from the film aren't the sexy bits (which are few, and almost glacially offhand) but the exasperating, perverse or anguished bits: Nana, the heroine (Anna Karina) alone in a cinema, silently weeping at and for the silent vision of Maria Falconetti in Carl Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc; Nana in a pool hall, improvising an artlessly peppy dance routine; Nana in a café, endlessly talking Plato, Hegel and Kant with the grizzled, real-life philosopher Brice Parain.
In short, the truest subject of Vivre sa vie--and it is a rich one--is nothing other than its star, Anna Karina, the piercingly beautiful model who had married her director just a year before, and who obviously inspired him to perplexity, rapture and despair. Technically, the film is insouciant to the point of arrogance--Godard constantly fiddles around with the soundtrack, the camera movements and framing as if all the usual rules of cinema were a pair of itchy underpants--and yet the film aches with melancholy. It's unlikely that the video will make many new converts, but for those willing to pay the price of admission to Godard's world (and the price includes boredom), the reward is one of the strangest and most troubling love letters in the history of cinema--apart from Godard's half-dozen other films about his wife, that is. --Kevin Jackson
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.