Vivre sa vie is a French New Wave film by Jean-Luc Godard featuring his long time partners, actor Anna Karina and cinematographer Raoul Coutard. The film’s story told in twelve vignettes, describes idiosyncratic and wistful Nana (Anna Karina)’s downward spiral trying to make ends meet in 1960s Paris.
For many of us, the frame grabs above describe the film’s standout scene. In a quiet cinema, Nana watches Carl Dreyer’s masterpiece silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. In sequence we see filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard lovingly focus on Anna Karina’s face as Carl Dreyer does Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s. In parallel we, fatefully, see Karina’s face sympathise with Falconetti’s. Filmmakers and characters working in perfect synchronicity and deep sympathy.
Neither of these films are Ingmar Bergman’s but we’re reminded of his quote, ‘Our work begins with the human face’.
This scene is an demonstrator for Anna Karina’s effortless charm. Writing a covering letter for a job application, Nana is required to double-check her own height. We can’t expect her to have a tape measure to hand!
A central aspect of the film tonally shifts between two famous Francophone films discussing prostitution: Luis Buñuel’s often romanticised Belle de Jour, and Chantal Akerman’s anything but romanticised Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. This scene’s tone owes more to the former.
Many of us are nostalgic for the record shops of our youth, though few of us were ever served by Anna Karina. The film’s later dance scene may be more famous but this scene shows a more subtle but still playful side to Nana.
Reflections on what could have been. The film requires Anna Karina’s face to tell much of its story, but we sometimes don’t see her face other than in glances, such as its—literal—reflection here. The film returns to this technique later on using a rotational view with Nina in discussion with another one of her companions. Raoul Coutard’s camera is always anxious and mobile, on its journey to give us as many varied eyes as possible to view Nana’s journey.
A tenuous link but returning to Ingmar Bergman for continuity, the film’s final vignette reminds me of Wild Strawberries regarding its use of poetic literature. In this case the reading is from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Oval Portrait and is moribundly prescient.
Together with the film returning to structurally reference Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, we’re reminded that despite light-hearted diversions along the way, even more fatefully than another Jean-Luc Godard film Breathless, Nana’s journey is spiralling downwards to its inevitable conclusion.
Reference: Vivre sa vie – Wikipedia