My introduction to Godard is fairly recent. I have only in the last three weeks begun to watch his films, and have been both intrigued and a little puzzled by his stylistic approach to film-making.
Not withstanding my confusion over his films in general, I found watching Vivre Sa Vie an absolute delight. Even in its title, the movie begins to show a certain contempt with popular notions: My life to live, It’s my life – an aggrogant expression proclaiming choice. It appears that the director takes a small satisfaction in dismantling this myth of choice piece by piece in twelve parts of the movie.
The movie follows the life of Nana, in twelve short segments. We learn that she has left her husband and child, possibly to follow some vague dreams of becoming rich and famous. In the first couple of segments, her quirky nature begins to show, as does her alienation and almost complete isolation with the world. She is struggling to meet ends, unable to pay her rent – and takes up streetwalking to earn some money. While a lesser movie would have dramatized the difficulty of this decision to no end, Godard’s version only subtly shows the discomfort through Nana’s denial to allow her first client to kiss her on the mouth. Other than this single digression, she is not shown to be either in a moral conflict or in depression over her decision.
In the next sections, she meets Raoul who becomes her pander, marking her complete entry into the profession. As the scenes progress, she appears more and more alienated, robotically going through the motions. Perhaps at some point she realizes that this is not her life – she even takes a lover and makes a decision to leave the profession, again indicating that this whole track was a matter of choice, and she could leave it at will.
The movie ends in a sudden, surprising and shocking tragedy. A tragedy that was wholly unnecessary to the movie, but perhaps vital for Godard’s stylistic build-up. Also, I cannot come up with an alternative ending, except for the kind of alienated supreme ending of L’eclisse.
The film is best known for its cinematic techniques – the use of twelve different parts, each with a title, or the use of camera angles and positions with majority of scenes being captured from behind or from profiles. Except for Nana, none of the other actors have to worry about facial expressions, as the faces are shown only briefly – almost as an afterthought towards the end of the scene. There is little dialogue in the film, and most sounds are external. All techniques which were supposedly made to shock the audience. But once the shock is over, they seem to be the perfect way to show a life. In fragments, not attempting to draw conclusions, and almost exclusively focused on the central character.
Nana’s character is well pictured. She is poor, and does not want to be. She is not contend in being a wife and mother who struggles to subsist. She has dreams and is unwilling to completely give up on them. Even though she choses prostitution, it appears to her as a transient choice, without the permanence and irrevocability she associates with settling in a mediocre marriage or life. She doesn’t ever look completely disappointed with the way things move, only because she continues to believe that there is a rainbow at the end of the cloud, until, in a while, she becomes habitual to the cloud and only feels a tiredness with it.
Anna Karina puts the perfect face to Nana. I was, at first interested in the similarity of her name to Anna Karenina. (I was, and still am quite moved by the story of Tolstoy’s heroine who throws away a perfectly settled life to chase some phantom illusions and then gets trapped in the chase). I think the same dream repeats here, as it does in so many lives. Of running from stability towards another stability.