My fourth entry in my odyssey that is the french new wave and Jean-Luc Godard is Vivre Sa Vie. The film stars the beautiful Anna Karina and is about a woman who descends into prostitution in order to earn enough money to stay alive.
I have seen many films that deal with prostitution, but this film is unique. Nana (Anna Karina) you get the sense that she has always had many dates, many men that are attracted to her, and has always been verging on prostitution in one form or another most of her adult life. It seems to be a natural projection for her and she falls into it almost without thinking. Once she gets into it, you can see the subtle changes that happen to her personality. On the surface she has become more outwardly sexual, sporting a posh fur coat and dancing like a showgirl around a room, but in other ways you can tell she has become more detached. She no longer looks innocent, like she did before. Godard shoots her very different in the second half of the film. There are more shots of her smoking, more of her moping, more of her quietly going about her day-to-day tasks. Before she became a prostitute, there seemed to be more fluidity to the way she walked and talked. Although she was burdened by the lack of money, she seemed better off before.
Paris of Godard’s lens is something that morphs and changes with his subject matter. In Breathless, it was a place of intrigue, in A Woman is A Woman, it maintained the myth of old grandiose beauty, and in Vivre sa Vie, it is a place of grim, of gray hues, very flat and oppressive. Paris so many things to different kinds of directors. I think that is why I love it when a film is set in Paris. It is so versatile, as is evidenced by Godard himself.
The way that Godard places his camera is very important here. When we first meet Nana, she is having a conversation with her ex. However you only see her back and hear her words. Every once in a while you can catch a glimpse of her in the mirror, but that is about it. This couple has a whole conversation not facing the audience. It reminds me of a painting that I love by Manet. It is entitled “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere.” In this painting, the mirror tricks you into seeing the woman’s face and the back of her head at the same time by employing a mirror. You also see the artist’s profile in the mirror, showing where his perspective has come from. Trying to figure out what is going on at this bar distances you and yet pulls you in at the same time. I think that Godard wanted to achieve the same thing. You are frustrated that you can’t see her face, but at the same time you want to see her face and therefore you keep watching.
The sequence where Nana is showing her daily tasks at prostitution is executed very well. There are no words, just the same music that has been playing the whole time throughout the entire film. She enters hotel room, strange men embrace her, you see her over the shoulder of a man with a cigarette staring at the viewer, she is bent over in pain o the bed, she washes her face with the towel, money is exchanged hands but you can tell she wants more than she gets, and it sort of loops like this for several minutes. She is getting tired of the game. There is no mystery anymore for her and she doesn’t enjoy it.
After it is established that she is sick of prostituting, she meets an old man at a cafe. They spark up a conversation. It starts with her saying that she doesn’t know what to say. He responds very philosophically and she engages in this conversation about words. She wants to live her life in silence, but we think in words and eventually we will want to express our thoughts and it will come out as words. The unhappiness of her words sort makes the old man melt and the viewer melt as well. She is so profoundly lost and disconnected with other humans, that this scene is one where she can truly be herself and it has to be with a non-threatening older man.
Tarantino (one of my favorite directors) loves this film and modeled Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction off of Nana. He even copies a scene in this film in Pulp Fiction (the one of Nana dancing in the pool hall). Usually Tarantino has amazing taste in films and this film is no different. Although it didn’t move me emotionally, it was interesting to watch intellectually. I would definitely rent it again.