Quick Thoughts: Vivre Sa Vie (My Life To Live 1962)
The 12 part story of Nana, a struggling actress who falls into prostitution.
Vivre Sa Vie is an iconic Jean-Luc Godard picture that came from the height of his career in the 60s, following films such as Breathless and A Woman Is A Woman. In this picture you see the same play with form that you see in Godard’s other films of this period – everything from rapid editing to gun fire, to the uncalled for static long shots, sudden drawn-out dialogue scenes and, of course, close-ups on the back of characters’ heads. However, whilst Breathless is pretty much a playful movie that acts as something of an anti-tragedy, Vivre Sa Vie means to be much more dramatic in its depiction of a woman falling into prostitution and eventually into tragedy. In fact, comparing titles, Breathless and My Life To Live, you do get a sense of irony when looking at the narratives beyond them. Throughout Breathless Michel has control (as well as quite a bit of luck), he has things go his way and he truly tries to get a grip on what he wants from the world. Nana in My Life To Live faces futility throughout this narrative, and though she tries to take control, repeating variations of the title to herself and others, she doesn’t do much to prevent her descent into tragedy.
However, despite the ingenuity in the direction, the original and unconventional structuring and pieces of great writing, I didn’t enjoy Vivre Sa Vie much. This comes down to said approach to tragedy that Godard takes – it’s ironic, distant and pretty cold.
Flippancy and empathy are two pretty polar emotions when it comes to cinema, character and narrative – and this shows in Vivre Sa Vie. Godard’s directorial approach isn’t very empathetic, yet the tragic, character-centric focus of the narrative really needs an element of sympathy to work. Without this empathy there’s a rift between form and content which left me disconnected from Nana and unable to sink into the story very well, nor care about her plight. In fact, (SPOILERS) I watched her being gunned down in the end with less sympathy than I do seeing Michel killed in the end of Breathless (SPOILERS OVER). What this all points towards is Godard’s use of inaccessible characters and a rather surface formal approach. This is what makes his movies ‘cool’ to so many people; they have so much flash, vibrancy and play in them. But, I’ve never been too attracted to this and so haven’t ever really got into Godard – seeing Vivre Sa Vie hasn’t changed this.
So, when it comes to The French New Wave, Truffaut is always the auteur for me as he demonstrates and entirely more empathetic approach to character and story through films such as Day For Night, Juels Et Jim and The 400 Blows. What are your thoughts though? How do you feel about Vivre Sa Vie? Do you prefer Godard or Truffaut?
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