Nana (Anna Karina) is a Parisian salesgirl who drifts into prostitution. The story is told in the form of a documentary, separated into 12 tableaux. Godard has said that the division into tableaux was to emphasize the th... more »eatrical nature of the film, and also because when you look at something for too long you end up knowing less about it. Breaking it up into bite-size chunks can be helpful. What we see is a romantic portrait of womanhood caught between her own role (she wants to be an actress) and that which she is allowed or compelled to do. This is brought home most poignantly when Nana goes to a showing of Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc and her tear-streaked face is intercut with that of Maria Falconetti playing Joan, about to be led to the stake. Add to that the further layer that we have a Danish actress (Karina) in a French film, watching a French actress (Falconetti) in a Danish film, and the implications play out grimly. This is one of Godard's finest films, both austere and compellingly watchable. --Jim Gay« less
doctor_smith | Rowland Heights, CA United States | 09/16/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
""My Life to Live ("Vivre Sa Vie)," released in 1962, was director Jean-Luc Godard's fourth feature film and one of the finest, most exhilarating examples of the French New Wave. The great cultural critic Susan Sontag considered the film to be "one of the most extraordinary, beautiful, and original works of art that I know of." The film is now forty years old, and since its original release it has, unfortunately, been somewhat forgotten, not nearly referred to as much as Godard's "Breathless" and "Weekend." In many ways, however, "My Life to Live" is Godard's most accomplished work. It encapsulates all of the main cinematic innovations of the New Wave movement; in its visual style, it is refreshingly innovative (even decades later) and often awfully beautiful; and it redefines cinematic history at the same time that it pays homage to that history."My Life to Live" is part crime drama, part B-movie, but, most of all, the story of a young Parisian woman's descent into prostitution and existential trauma. It offers little or no overt explanation for events or for the choices and actions made by its characters. It proceeds largely through dialogue. And it features the kinds of jump cuts and self-referential awareness common to this style of cinema (not to mention the references to other sources of culture, including a shot of a movie theater playing Francois Truffaut's "Jules and Jim," another exponent of the French New Wave). Viewers raised on Hollywood movies who have not had much exposure to this style of filmmaking will find "My Life to Live" difficult and, to an extent, somewhat unsatisfying, only because it does not conform to American narrative or cinematic conventions. It is both formally groundbreaking in its visual style and unique in its narrative structure.That narrative structure is based upon twelve tableaux, each with its own chapter reference. If Godard had admitted that this was to make the film more understandable, it was also to give it a pseudo-documentary feel. In that sense, "My Life to Live" blends reality and fiction, film drama and documentary, into a cohesive experience. The camera embodies Godard's approach. Its movement means several things at one time: a visual language that defied the standards of traditional film photography (watch how Godard films conversatins in "My Life to Live"); a sense of documentary, as if Godard was portraying a non-fictional account of a woman's descent into prostitution in post-war Paris; and a technique in which it seems that the camera is always aware of what it is doing.And what is the camera doing? Most of all, it is obsessed with its protagonist, Nana, played by the chic, mesmerizing Anna Karina, who was Godard's wife at the time. "My Life to Live" is as much a study of her as it is of its fictional subject. Godard's camera lingers on her face, producing some of the most staggeringly beautiful moments in cinematic history and also allowing Karina's outward image to tell exactly what she is experiencing internally. In one of the film's most celebrated passages, Karina's face, eyes wide open and full of tears, fills up the entire screen as she watches Carl Dreyer's equally groundbreaking silent film "The Passion of Joan of Arc." Karina's close-up replaces Maria Falconetti's and becomes just as enigmatic."My Life to Live" is a film of multiple artistic merits, one of Godard's finest achievements, and an emblem of the French New Wave. Serious film buffs should not be without it.Now, a few words about the DVD. Fox Lorber is notorious for producing poor digitial transfers of their films, and "My Life to Live" is no exception. The transfer is actually better than most of their products and is quite passable, with some noticeable image spoilation here and there and with a relatively mediocre audio track. Having said that, most viewers should not have too much of an issue with this disc's quality. The aspect ratio is 1.33:1, the same as a standard television screen, so this looks like a pan and scan version. I do not know if this is the same aspect ratio of the original theatrical print, but if you are expecting widescreen, you won't get it here (although this should not preclude viewers from purchasing this fantastic film).(And, last but not least, a somewhat related jibe: if you are coming to Godard because you are a Quentin Tarantino fan, you will find that many of the ideas and techniques Tarantino employed in "Pulp Fiction" were lifted right out of this film, in addition to others by Godard. Seeing both, you will realize that Tarantino really isn't that original after all and that Godard was far superior.)"
The Magnificent Anna Karina
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 12/22/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is Godard's most austere film. Its also one of his best. Anna Karina is in every shot and you never get tired of looking into those sad, beautiful, hopeful eyes. The most heartwrenching part of the story is that no matter how far she descends into the grim world of prostitution she remains somehow innocent and to be truthful the world of prostitution actually doesn't look all that grim(her clients are polite, they always pay, there are no drugs, or beatings). She survives not by becoming detached but by remaining inquisitive and continuing to find things that interest her. She loves the film Passion of Joan of Arc, and she loves the Poe story her boyfriend reads, and she enjoys the company of anyone with fresh ideas or a different perspective. She might be a prostitute but she never stops being a human being first and she never stops seeing men as individuals and so she never stops liking them, even when they might see her and treat her merely as a type. Though she can sense the tragedy in someone elses life like Joan of Arcs she does not view herself as being tragic. She might be a prostitute but she does not seem ashamed of this, but rather just sees it as a job. You could almost say she is amused by her own situation. Its her intense awareness of life and her own freedom to live as she chooses and think and feel what she wants to that make her such a fascinating creature. In fact its the moment after she has her first client that she seems to really become fully aware of herself as a truly free creature. Karina's sense of freedom contrasts in an interesting way with her occupation and the films structure which sets a decidedly deterministic, even fatalistic, tone and pace. I do agree that the ending seems too easy and abrupt -- many of Godards films end with a kind of suddeness that makes them feel somehow incomplete. The French title of Breathless is Out of Breath and this seems to be Godards ruling principle -- film until you run out of ideas(out of breath) and then kill off your protaganist(this happens in Breathless, My Life To Live, and Pierrot le Fou). But whether you like the ending or not the rest of the film is so perfect that the film and especialy Karina's face, her attitudes and expressions, linger in your thoughts long after the film is over. Usually Jean-Luc Godard's style is the star of a Jean-Luc Godard but this is Anna Karina's movie. Cinematographer Coutard as usual does a tremendous job. I think my favorite Anna Karina film is Jacque Rivette's The Nun (La Religieuse)but this a close second. She is way more interesting than any of the other beauties of the era, and one suspects that she is as creative and original as Godard himself."
The film gets FIVE
jlaidley | San Mateo, CA USA | 01/13/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I give this DVD FOUR stars only because the transfer could have been better. With older films, especially foreign ones, the time and cost of providing a great transfer is too much unfortunately.This an amazing and powerful film that should be owned if you are a fan of Godard or of the French New Wave. For those who have not seen it and are looking for advice, I say: be cautious. This film is not for everyone, especially if you gravitate toward mainstream films. Don't expect Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. The French New Wave era brought out a new kind of filmmaking. The films abandoned and sometimes appropriated traditional methods of narrative and formal esthetics, and used this technique as a critique of sorts. Vivre sa vie is no exception. Jean-Luc Godard made a film that requires something more from the viewer than just their attention span. The fairly simple plot of Vivre sa vie is expanded and turned around by various formal aspects of filmmaking made famous by French New Wave directors. Jump cuts, long takes, deep focus and slow pans are cornerstones of The French New Wave, but my interest lays with Vivre sa vie functions as a text, rather than a traditional narrative. By text, I mean that the film has a greater social theme and works more as an essay rather than a film¡Xsomething needed to be read. Simply put, Vivre sa vie tells a story of a woman that leaves her husband and son, wants to get into the movies, ends up becoming a prostitute, falls in love, then wants to get out of the business. But there is so much more to the film and what is needed is your participation. Participation here, involves much more than a warm body and open eyes. Godard is using the narrative and formal techniques to tell something more about the social predicament of prostitutes and perhaps women in general. He accomplishes this by using very untraditional film techniques that enhances this film to a textual level.When speaking of text, the notion of ¡§reading¡¨ is implied. The viewer needs to ¡§read¡¨ the scene, rather than just watch. Reading requires the viewer to make connections and draw conclusions from the juxtaposition of the words and images, and not just be told or shown what is really ¡§meaningful.¡¨Watch the 12th chapter (The young man again¡Xthe oval portrait¡XRaoul sells Nana) when the young man reads the Poe story to Nana. I think that really captures the essence of the film.Again, just because people think that this film is great, powerful and groundbreaking, doesn't mean that you will enjoy it. Be realistic."
Another masterpiece from Godard...
jlaidley | 10/14/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I cannot recommend this movie enthusiastically enough. Anna Karina, as in all of her collaborations with Godard, is excellent as Nana, and the storytelling is simple, stark, and affecting. But I have to disagree with one of the other reviewers who says that Godard hasn't had many triumphs. I think most (underlining "most"--meaning definitely not all) of his films are engaging, challenging, innovative, and technically experimental. In my opinion, he ranks with Bergman and Fellini as the best of cinema's directors."
Essential viewing for anyone with any interest in film...
Scott D. Cudmore | Toronto, Ontario Canada | 04/04/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I keep coming back to Godard. What can I do, he's one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and everything he made in the 60's with Anna Karina (his then wife) is absolutely amazing. I'm not using the word amazing loosely here either...this film in particular fills one with awe. It's style borrows something from Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (which Nana watches in this film) although not in a direct way. It is completely unique, original, and highly inventive filmmaking, using a number of cinematic tricks and devices that Godard was so enthusiastic about playing with. Here, they all work. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. It is beautiful."