Film Greats: Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Vivre Sa Vie’ (My Life To Live) – 1963

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Edwin Pereyra, Sep 5, 2001.

  1. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    Jean-Luc Godard’s My Life To Live is about a woman’s slow decent into prostitution. After leaving her husband and child in order to pursue an acting career, Nana, played by Anna Karina who was then Godard’s wife, has to find other means of work in order to support herself.
    The film is a cornucopia of cinematic conventions delivering mixed results. I have seen it more than once now and had gone back several times to some of the more critical scenes in the film. While some of the elements Godard use work, others will leave you feeling alienated and indifferent.
    For example, in one scene, the street noises are heard but in another, they are totally muted. In another scene, he pans his camera around with varying degrees of speed that the viewer instead becomes caught up with what he is doing with his camera rather than paying close attention and being absorbed by the film and its story. In yet another cinematic technique, in the middle of a scene where certain characters have been engaged for quite sometime in a meaningful and engaging conversation, their dialogue would suddenly be replaced with subtitles and muted sound.
    The film is presented in twelve sections, in a documentary style story. And much like its chapter approach, the film, for me, becomes more as an exercise in cinematic style without actually getting close to its central character. There is a feeling of aloofness and detachment that is established even in the early shots. Each chapter in the film, more or less, becomes an outlet to showcase a different kind cinematic style with the camera at the heart of its existence. In a way, it does become an exercise in form while leaving himself open to such criticisms as being self-indulgent. It is about nouvelle vague - a form of cinema making which originated in France during the 1950s that emphasized spontaneity, unconventionality, and the individual styles of directors.
    While My Life To Live may be highly regarded because of its unformulaic and unconventional approach, in some cases, it is the other aspects of cinema such as impeccable acting and a well-written script that when combined with Godard’s technical artistry, fine cinematography and when used in harmony, become the true elements of a great film and end up complimenting each other. Somehow in My Life To Live, Godard samples and only manages to gives us certain aspects of that greatness albeit with mixed results.
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    Film Greats – A continuing quick look at motion pictures that, in one way or another, have been called “great films” by some. Other Films In This Series: Sergei Eisenstein’s http://www.hometheaterforum.com/uub/Forum9/HTML/007237.html
    [Edited last by Edwin Pereyra on September 05, 2001 at 08:07 AM]
     
  2. Tino

    Tino Lead Actor
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    Thanks for that review Edwin. I've always wanted to see this film because I had heard such great thing about it.
    It's always nice to hear a differing point of view, at the risk of riling up some other members. [​IMG] I'll give it a spin soon.
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  3. Pascal A

    Pascal A Second Unit

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    quote: It's always nice to hear a differing point of view, at the risk of riling up some other members.[/quote]
    Not at all. No film is universally or indisputably "great". Personally, I'm not a big fan of Godard so I'm not at all "riled up" (nor would I be if Godard were my favorite - I take people's opinions with a grain of salt). However, I do like My Life to Live and consider it to be one of his best and most accessible films because the film is not deliberately cerebral nor impenetrably vague. Quite the contrary; it is a simple story told in an unconventional series of images (in this case, using tableaux).
    However Edwin, I'm curious if the fragmented narrative in My Life to Live is what was problematic in the film and resulted in Godard's seeming "samples" of greatness. If that's the case, then the films of Alain Resnais, early Shohei Imamura, Nagisa Oshima, and Chantal Akerman may not suit you. If the tableaux presentation is problematic, then the films of Robert Bresson, Theo Angelopoulos, and Sergei Paradjanov may not appeal to you either. It really depends on what you are looking for in these films. For me, Godard was an introductory passage, not the zenith.
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    [Edited last by Pascal A on September 05, 2001 at 11:55 AM]
     
  4. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    I'm not a big Godard fan either, but Vivre sa vie is certainly one of my favorites.
    My most memorable scene is Nana's viewing of The Passion of Joan of Arc (even if the martyrdom trope is a bit overwrought). Still, Godard remains resolutely unsentimental, and dramatizes that singular reaction so typical of first-time viewers of Dreyer's tragedy - even those of us who can't identify quite so directly with it's heroine (or so personify the Madonna/whore duality).
    And identifying the heroine of one film with that of another is a prime example of the kind of cinema-specific reference that marks Godard's brand of movie modernism.
    And Nana/Ana's dance around the billiard table? Pure bliss. I could put that scene on infinite loop and watch for hours...
     
  5. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    Oh, oh, oh....
    Forgot my other favorite scene!
    In the (hotel?) room with her lover, we watch Nana as he reads from Poe's The Oval Portrait (about an artist so absorbed in painting his wife's portrait that he doesn't notice that the life he's giving this art is being taken from his wife... who dies as the portrait is complete). But it's Godard's voice reading from Poe's work. And Ana Karina was then his wife.
    It's a brilliant and touching scene. One of the rare occasions where Godard's "intellectualism" (I made that up) succeeds in evoking a truly moving moment, an emotional ephiphany even. Yes, this may be my favorite scene, after all.
     
  6. Brook K

    Brook K Lead Actor

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    A-HA! So that was part of the source material for Epstein's Fall of the House of Usher. You had mentioned before how it melded several Poe stories, but I haven't read a whole lot of his work. My favorite was always Cask of Amontillado.
    Anyway, I was carried away by Vivre Sa Vie. The scenes Al mentioned are also still vivid in my mind (and the Poe scene is now immeasurably enhanced since now I know what the story is about), but above all is how captivating Anna Karena is. I become completely absorbed in her story.
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    [Edited last by Brook K on September 05, 2001 at 11:20 PM]
     
  7. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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  8. Doug D

    Doug D Stunt Coordinator

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    Edwin,
    What were your feelings on PIERROT LE FOU? I ask because that was the Godard film that I really got into, where I felt like I finally "got" Godard. After seeing that, I was actually surprised at how UNexperimental VIVRE SA VIE is by comparison. I think maybe the problem is that VIVRE SA VIE isn't experimental enough for me to enjoy just as a piece of experimental cinema (as opposed to PIERROT LE FOU, which I love on those grounds), but is too experimental to fully engage with on a standard narrative sense. IMO, of course. (Although I was moved by the ending.)
    This thread is great - as I just posted over to the S+S thread a couple days ago, I just saw VIVRE SA VIE, and am really curious about what others see in this film.
     
  9. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Producer

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    quote: Personally, I'm not a big fan of Godard... [/quote]
    quote: I'm not a big Godard fan either... [/quote]
    I agree with Pascal and Rich... me either.... [​IMG]

    But also My Life to Live is the best of his I have seen... Wasn't real keen on Pierrot le Fou or Alphaville... I think like Rohmer either you are into the style ... or not. I look forward to one day seeing Breathless...

    Too bad Jung Woo wasn't around for this I'd love her take on this...

    Here is her review: http://207.136.67.23/film/Reviews/my_life_to_live.htm#myGary@2ze.com
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    [Edited last by Gary Tooze on September 06, 2001 at 12:52 PM]
     
  10. Ted Todorov

    Ted Todorov Cinematographer

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  11. Gary Tooze

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  12. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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  13. Rich Malloy

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  14. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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  15. Brook K

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    Yes, it is successful, because for all of Godard's tricks and experimentation, he still is telling stories in these movies (Breathless, Vivre, Pierre) that excite and touch the soul. Something else in Godard, he makes Paris seem like "the" place to be. The center of passion and excitement. I can imagine being 18, seeing Breathless for the first time, and dropping whatever I was doing to try to get to Paris somehow.
    Now, for a film that isn't successful at this, I would give you A Woman Is A Woman, in which I thought that all Godard's tricks and fun-poking completely overwhelmed his story and rendered it inert.
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