Wednesday, November 10, 2021



Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard based on the book "Ou En Est la Prostitution" by Marcel Sacotte; Story by Jean-Luc Godard, additional narrative by Marcel Sacotte

It's been a long time since I finally decided to talk about Jean-Luc Godard again. As important and great a director as he was, and still is, at age 91, the old bastard is not only still alive, but probably is still making movies. (His last feature film, "The Image Book" was just three years ago.) At a certain point during your cinephile youth, you'll find even his most obnoxious and pretentious films, inspiring in some way, even if they're not particularly good. That said, the more and longer you dive into his lifelong deconstruction of cinema, the less compelling he becomes. Every film of his is self-aware, every film of his is about how the movie is self-aware, every movie is self-aware that they're in a movie that's self-aware about it's own self-awareness. At some point, either you keep digging into his work, hoping beyond hope that if you dig deep enough, you'll find a soul of someone or something, or you just stop entirely and give up, conceding that the radicalism non-conformism that Godard has embodied just isn't actually worth diving into. We all have these stages of Godard, we sometimes go through at different points in our lives and go back to some of them and return to others multiple times, we can be going through both of these stages of him at the same time sometimes. 

I however, have long ago tapped out of any real interest in the guy, even though I still love and admired several of his films. "Pierrot Le Fou" in particular, seems to represent Godard's cinematic abandonment to his most luscious and excessive best; I wouldn't be shocked if that film inspired Quentin Tarantino's whole career. Yet, that's not the movie I wanted to revisit. Instead, I wanted to rewatch "My Life to Live", or "Vivre Sa Vie" as it's now, more widely known. You'd think it'd be the Godard movie I'd most enjoy since it's supposedly the beloved film of his, made during that brief early period of Godard's work where he still cared about telling stories, and yeah, that's part of it, but honestly, it's- it's quite literally just as much a bunch of scenes as well. It's subtitled that it's section into twelve tableaus. He even shot the movie famously in this order, and without a real script. All the conversations are essentially improvised. Some critics of the movie have called the film an entire movie about ways to film conversations, and indeed, the movie will strive to find different and unique, but meaningful ways to film conversations. 

The movie does follow Nana (Anna Karina), a young woman as she goes from aspiring actress, spiraling down into a life of prostitution. Karina was Godard's wife at the time, and of course, his most famous star and muse. Nana is arguably his most famous character after Michael Poiccard from "Breathless". It's such a sad tale, and yet, I always remember the movie as being insouciant and fun. Except, it's really not. 

I don't really remember the death scene that the movie seems to just want to get over with, like it's not that exciting as it is inevitable. (The film is dedicated to "B-Movies", those old time fatalistic gangster-type stories, so perhaps it is intentionally arbitrary) I remember the scenes of Nana dancing around a snooker table and all through the bar to the jukebox, trying so purposefully to gain and achieve the attention of all the guys in the bar, who she wants to have look at her. I forget that she's trying to find a new trick for the night by doing it. Or a cute scene where she's writing a letter about herself and realizes that she isn't sure what her height is, so Nana stands up and measures herself in centimeters, knowing that her outstretch palm is about seven centimeters, I don't remember that the letter she's writing is to a potential pimp that she wants to work under.

There's an underlying theme about how Nana, and perhaps any woman, or any person for that matter, seems to be able to so easily slip into such a life, and that this idea of freedom for a young adult still mostly revolves around having to work for and be of service to others. We see this early on in a scene at a record store where Nana's working, trying to ask other co-workers and such for rent money that she loaned out to a woman who she can no longer find. (Come to think of it, we never actually see where Nana lives in the movie....) We also see her in a diner talking with a photographer hoping to get model shots to send to studios, and instead, he does nude photos. She's reluctant, but she also relents 'cause she wants to achieve her dream. 

Perhaps that's why it's been on my mind lately. I've been working a lot more, and not working on my blog or my writing in general and frankly, I've had to work a regular job for long hours lately, just to make ends meat. And while I hardly have the worst job and I've not resorted to prostitution, it does feel like you're more trapped in a system or serving to others then you are, having the freedom to live your life. 

That title is also a bit of a misnomer, in France, working as a prostitute was often referred to as living in "The Life". "My Life to Live" has the look and spirit of the freedom the French New Wave gave us, particularly filmmakers like Godard, but it's one that has much darker edges and undercurrents boiled underneath and constantly popping up to the surface. Despite all the clear signs of Godard showing his visual radical wit, like the opening shots shown in profile with music that doesn't end or say anything in time, the many shots of windows and walls, and the backs of people while they're talking, and toying with the filmmaking techniques and ideas, "Vivre Sa Vie" does seem to break through moreso then most of Godard's work. 

That earlier passage I noted about, "The soul", actually comes from an early monologue given in the film from her ex-husband Paul (Andre S. LaBarthe) from a classroom assignment where a young girl describe why she thinks a chicken is the best animal. How the chicken has an outside that is entirely outside, and then when you take it away, there's an inside that's entirely inside and then take that away, there's nothing but a soul underneath. I never liked that analogy oddly, 'cause I think the idea is that it describes Nana, (also 'cause it's literally childish) but perhaps it's supposed to describe Godard. I don't know if it does, but it's probably how he would like to be described by others, and perhaps that's how Nana would like to be thought of as well.

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