What better way to kick-start ‘Nouvelle Vague’ or the French New Wave cinema in the blog than introducing two of its most illustrious figureheads in a single post – the legendary writer-director Jean-Luc Godard and the equally vibrant and beautiful actress Anna Karina, both of whom produced so many influential works when the French New Wave was in full flow.
When “Vivre Sa Vie – film en douze tableaux” [Eng. Title: My Life to Live – a film in twelve tableaux] was made, Anna Karina was also married to Godard. And the film is perched at the crest of Godard’s own ‘cinematic’ wave – pretty soon he’d be famously forecasting the ‘death of cinema’ itself – as if he were the only person that mattered. Apart from his occasional megalomania, he was quite a genial chap, I’m told. But one thing we all have to (even if grudgingly) agree upon, is that he’s one of those rare geniuses who appear just about once in a generation to change the way we see things – to enrich humanity.
Having said that, my favourite Nouvelle Vague auteur has been the more ‘approachable’ François Truffaut, and who in the overall scheme of things was perhaps a greater influence than Godard in the way Europeans make and view cinema today.
Coming back to “Vivre Sa Vie”, we can see Godard had already begun questioning the virtue of cinema. The film’s protagonist Nana, wants to have a career in cinema, but ends up becoming a prostitute – perhaps Godard is alluding to the compromises one would sooner or later have to make even when it comes to cinematic art. He even quotes at the beginning of the film, “Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself” (Montaigne), so we can anticipate where he is heading no matter what the story he’s going to tell. As it happens, “Vivre Sa Vie” is as the title suggests, twelve disconnected vignettes, almost short stories of Nana, giving us a snapshot of her life, circumstances, and choices. Each one of them leave us high and dry just when we want to know more – it is like showing us something that’s of interest, and pulling us away almost by force before we’re done, as if that is not what he really wants us to see. But that is the point of the film – to make us look beyond the apparent. Well, people have interpreted the film in numerous ways – but I for one believe that while that is perhaps part of its charm, one doesn’t need to be a scholar to appreciate its virtues either – just take it the way you see it.
And even if Godard isn’t my favourite New Wave director, this little gem is a pure classic in the way a story is told. Along with “2 ou 3 Choses que je sais d’elle” (Two or Three Things I Know About Her), this is my favourite Godard film – in its simplicity, eloquence and sheer visual poetry – it even makes you want to forgive the man’s arrogance. And I haven’t even started to talk about the film’s technical merits (I won’t – it’s understood)..!
This film has been essential viewing for not just those who love cinema, but even those who went on to become masters in their own right.