Sunday, May 20, 2012

Vivre sa vie / My Life to Live

Vivre sa vie: film en douze tableaux / Elää elämäänsä / [Elä elämäsi - on screen title never used] / Leva sitt liv. FR © 1962 Les Films de la Pléïade. P: Pierre Braunberger. D+SC: Jean-Luc Godard. Sources: Où en est la prostitution? (1959) by judge Marcel Sacotte; Vingt ans après (1845) by Alexandre Dumas; and "The Oval Portrait" (1842) by Edgar Allan Poe en traduction de Charles Baudelaire (1857). DP: Raoul Coutard. Cost: Christiane Fageol. Make-up: Jackie Reynal. Hair: Simone Knapp. Title designer: Ursule Monlinaro. M: Michel Legrand. Songs: ”Ma môme (elle joue pas les starlettes)” (Jean Ferrat, Pierre Frachet) sung by Jean Ferret; ["Swing Swing Swing"] danced to by Anna Karina. S: Guy Villette. ED: Agnès Guillemot, Jean-Luc Godard. Film extract: La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer, FR 1929, with Falconetti, Antonin Artaud). Loc: Paris, February-March 1962. C: Anna Karina (Nana Kleinfrankenheim), Sady Rebbot (Raoul), André S. Labarthe (Paul), Guylaine Schlumberger (Yvette), Brice Parain (le philosophe), Peter Kassovitz (the young man; his voice reading Poe /  Baudelaire: Godard), Dimitri Dineff (Dimitri), Monique Messine (Elizabeth), Gérard Hoffman (Le chef), Gilles Quéant (a customer), Paul Pavel (a photographer), Eric Schlumberger (Luigi), Marcel Charton (a policeman), Jean Ferrat (man at the jukebox playing his own song "Ma môme"). Helsinki premiere: 22.2.1963 Ritz, distributor: Suomi-Filmi – tv transmissions: 17.11.1972 ja 13.11.1991 YLE TV1 – VET 64257 – K16 – 85 min. A vintage KAVA print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Reino Marjonen / Maya Vanni viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (I Love You, I Film You) (50 Years Ago), 20 May 2012.

Revisited a cinéaste's love story in the form of a modern tragedy, also a critique of idealization and commodification. Vivre sa vie is a self-reflective metafilm with a sense of documentary immediacy.

Like A Breakfast at Tiffany's, it is a story of a young woman who abandons her husband and child and becomes a prostitute in a big city and gets fatally involved with organized crime. Visual points of reference include Falconetti in La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, Louise Brooks (whose haircut Nana adopts), and Elizabeth Taylor (whose picture is on the wall).

It is a story of a quest for freedom and self-awareness, and the "twelve tableaux" mentioned in the film's subtitle are stages of Nana's odyssey. Psychology is abandoned, an essayistic collage form is applied. The intellectual center of the movie is Nana's encounter with the philosopher Brice Parain at a café. He quotes Plato, Kant, and Leibniz. Truth can be approached only via trial and error. Real love requires maturity.

The experimental character of Godard's discourse remains exhilarating. The chapter titles of the "tableaux" are formulated in the style of 19th century novels (see beyond the jump break). There are passages in silent cinema style with subtitles. The first scene of gangland violence is edited via a jerky, fast jump cut montage. When Raoul becomes Nana's pimp there is a lecture on prostitution accompanied with a Bressonian montage of close-ups such as money changing hands.

Vivre sa vie is a story of the humiliation of a woman, but it is also a tale of self-destruction and a loss of perspective. The mystery remains why Nana accepts the company of such worthless men (Raoul and his kind are like rats) even after she has bought her financial independence (she was 2000 francs short, and already her first customer pays her 5000 francs). Nana's new boyfriend who reads Edgar Allan Poe may be more enthralled by her image than her real self. When Raoul finally sells Nana to another pimp, there is a gunfight over a presumably missing 1000 francs, and the cowardly gangsters think nothing of using Nana as a human shield.

Beautifully shot by Raoul Coutard, applying a novel kind of glamour photography apparently based on available light, the film is also a series of experimental studies in cinematography. The credit sequence is based on silhouette like medium shots of Anna Karina perhaps inspired by but not imitating Vertigo. The opening sequence, the lengthy final encounter of Nana with her husband Paul, shows their backs only.

Despite the collage character and the constant experimentation there is a rare fundamental sense of unity and urgency in Vivre sa vie.

The vintage print, not far removed from the original negative, does justice to the unique cinematography of Vivre sa vie. The 50-year-old print has been in heavy use but still conveys perfectly the vision of Godard and Coutard and the immortal radiation of Anna Karina.

The twelve tableaux (copy-pasted from English Wikipedia):
Tableau one: A bistro - Nana wants to leave Paul - Pinball
Tableau two: The record shop - 2000 francs - Nana lives her life
Tableau three: The concierge - The Passion of Joan of Arc - a journalist
Tableau four: The police - Nana is questioned
Tableau five: The outer boulevards - the first man - the hotel room
Tableau six: Yvette - a café in the suburbs - Raoul - machine gun fire
Tableau seven: The letter - Raoul again - the Champs Élysées
Tableau eight: Afternoons - money - wash-basins - pleasure - hotels
Tableau nine: A young man - Nana wonders if she's happy
Tableau ten: The sidewalk - a man - there's no gaiety in happiness
Tableau eleven: Place du Châtelet - the stranger - Nana the unwitting philosopher
Tableau twelve: The young man again - The Oval Portrait - Raoul sells Nana

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