18 May 2010

WWQTW?: Vivre sa Vie


Last night was the 3rd meeting of my intro to film/movie club WWQTW? (You can check out previous installments by clicking on the tag below). I was SO excited about this meeting as we were going to watch what may in fact be my favorite film of all time. Usually, when asked what my favorite movie is, I demure and say I'm not sure. This is a lie. Sometimes, I say the name of a movie I think they would like or appreciate me saying is my favorite. This happens rarely. Usually, I pick one of two pre-set answers based on the person asking the question: "Heavy" or "Pulp Fiction". Now, I love these two films. "Pulp Fiction" was the first time I fully understood the film making process and what it meant to be a director. I can vividly recall the night I saw it at Collin Creek Mall. It was a Saturday... "Heavy" is my go to film with other film buffs. It's the first feature from James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted; Copland) and stars Live Tyler and Pruitt Taylor Vince. I can't watch the trailer for this movie with welling up with tears- and I never cry!

All this being said, my favorite movie is probably "Vivre sa Vie" or "My Life to Live (A Film in 12 Scenes)". I never mentioned it because it was out of print until this year and very difficult to find. It took me almost a year of searching online to find a legitimate print to order. It always seemes mean to say your favorite movie was one that no one could see; like wearing amazing boots you got from a trip to Tokyo just so you could say, "Oh them? Their Japanese". Now, thanks to Criterion, everyone can see this lost gem by Jean-Luc Godard.
Nana: "I forget I'm responsible, but I am."

Released in 1962, "Vivre sa Vie" tells the story of Nana (Anna Karina- Godard's wife at the time), a young woman who abandons her husband and son to try to make it as an actress. Instead, she falls into a life of prostitution (coincidentally called "the life" in France) and self analysis. I chose this film not only because I love it, but also because I believe it best expresses the mission and aesthetic of the Nouvelle Vague movement. The French New Wave created one of the most influential movements in cinema of all time: The idea of director as "auteur", the alienation of the audience, the subtle winks at the knowledge that what you were watching is fictional, the lightweight movement of the camera and free flow of sound that makes you believe it may in fact be documentary (see: cinéma vérité). The New Wave strived to show real life in cinema, while never forgetting you are watching a movie.

[side note: When I grow up, I want to be Anna Karina. Just saying.]

Godard is considered by many to be the most provocative and extreme filmmakers in the genre. In "Vivre sa Vie" he uses title cards to separate the action ("Reminds me of a play," says Steph. We then digress into a discussion of the many versions of the bible!). The camera is kept in medium and close up shots with no real masters. At anytime in a conversation, it may wander/pan to the window, the street, the back of someones head. We are constantly put in the position of voyeur while being reminded that what we see is not real. At first, this camera movement was distracting (and somewhat nauseating) to many of last nights viewers. After a quick smoke break (Nana, as well as everyone in the film, smokes so frequently it's hard to refrain oneself), the movement was seen as another device created to capture the full attention of the audience. Even after repeated viewings, I find myself leaning to the right or left, attempting to see what is just out of frame. Godard also didn't believe in explaining his films to people. It is up to you as the audience to decide what they are about. In conjunction, the backgrounds of his characters are often omitted and we jump forward in time without warning or notice. Godard's refusal to explain the motivations of his characters creates the effect of alienating the audience, it "displaces you" (Word of the day Jennie). Yet, it is only in the coercion of the viewer to decide for themselves that he makes us an active participant in what is normally a passive experience.

Nana: "Escape is a pipe dream."
Nana: "That's life."

Godard's ability to write for women should also not be overlooked. Just as in "Breathless", he creates a modern woman who elicits confusion, anger, sympathy, and recognition from the audience. We end up identifying with Nana, especially after Chapter 11 when she meets the philosopher in the cafe. In him she finds a kindred spirit, a good listener who is not interested in her for money or sex. She dreams of a bigger and better life, of the power of love and words, of the question of happiness and life itself. It is a decidedly human experience wrapped around a rather unusual circumstance. After her meeting with the philosopher, "it gave me more insight into her thoughts and feelings. Before, I didn't like her... Then she became a real person" (Steph Too). Much is said about the Edgar Allan Poe story read to Nana by her lover, but I saw little online that mentioned the story from "The Three Musketeers" that was told to her by the philosopher. While the Poe story ("The Oval Portrait") may convey the feelings of the auteur to his muse, it is in the Dumas story that we learn more about the muse. That everything that has happened before led us to this quite and short moment, that the final chapter of the story that follows sums it up; is testament to the power of words, the lack of them, and for keeping your cards close to your chest. The audience is stunned when the film ends, I know many of the club was, and it is only moments after it ends that the conversation starts flowing. Steph Too points out here that "in current American film, [knowing Nana's background] would have given us more closure. Here, that's not the point. That's not what I'm used to."

The Philosopher: "An instant of thought can only be grasped through words."

Suggested viewing:
also by Godard: "Breathless", "Weekend", "Pierre le Fou"
Francois Truffaut: "The 400 Blows", "Jules et Jim"
Alain Resnais: "Last Year at Marenbad"
Claude Chabrol: "Le Bonne Femmes"
Jacques Demy: "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg"
Spike Lee: "She's Gotta Have It"
Quentin Tarantino: "Reservoir Dogs" [side note: Tarantino's production company is called A Band Apart after Godard's film "Bande a Part" about a heist gone wrong.]
Bernardo Bertolucci: "The Dreamers" (NC-17)
Jean Cocteau: "Orphee", "la Belle et la Bete"
Jean-Pierre Juenet: "Amelie", "Delicatessan"

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