My Life to Live (Vivre sa vie: film en douze tableaux)

My Life to Live

Words should express just what one wants to say.

I can’t say I was looking forward to watching another Godard film, especially one from his heyday and prime era of rule-breaking self-conscious filmmaking. On the other hand, Vivre sa Vie’s subtitle essentially translates to “a film in twelve scenes”; the film is divided into twelve vignettes, which made the already short story seem even easier to get through, something for which I was quite thankful even before I’d started the film. Sadly, though, once it started, I found it unusually difficult to get through, even with its short length. Aside from his debut, which I first saw before I really knew who Godard was, my expectations entering a Jean-Luc Godard film have never been anything close to stellar. So, that Vivre sa Vie, or My Life to Live, pretty much met my expectations can really be seen either way you look at it.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you very much about the plot; as far as I gathered, it dealt with Nana, played by Anna Karina, and with a distinct Louise Brooks bob-cut, falling on hard times and resorting to prostitution to make money. As is always the case with me watching a Godard film, I ended up being more focused on the process of making the film than the actual film itself. The opening credits, for instance, feature sequential profiles of the main character looking uncomfortably forward, while soft music punctuates the tableaux for all of fifteen seconds before stopping and leaving the credits to display one after the other in silence. This is followed by the opening scene, which consists entirely of two of the main characters having a discussion at a diner, with the backs of their heads facing the camera the whole time. This sort of rule-breaking for the sake of rule-breaking is something I can never get behind. Rule breaking has a place; for discovering undiscovered aspects of greatness that wouldn’t have otherwise been uncovered if the filmmakers had stuck so rigidly to the rules. Breaking a rule without even so much as trying to see what better aspects of filmmaking could come of it just does more to emphasize why filmmakers should be following these rules in the first place. It’s by and large the problem I have with Godard’s work, and with three other films of his left on the list for me, it is a problem I have yet to fully put behind me. I will say, though, that Anna Karina was quite engaging to watch; at least, when she was facing the camera in some way, which wasn’t often.

I could cite numerous examples of how and when this film goes about reminding you that you are watching a film, or that time is relentlessly and inexorably marching on while you watch it, but frankly, you should come to expect that from a Godard film by this point. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I disliked this, but neither did I like it. Adding (or rather, subtracting) in the numerous instances of rule-breaking that I pointed out before the film indulges so often in, and I ended up on the other side of the fence with this one. I can’t really say it’s a bad film, but it breaks so many rules without giving a reason why it does so so often that I can’t say it’s a good one either. What I can say, though, is that it is supremely Godard, so if he is a director that you particularly enjoy, and you haven’t seen this one, you’ll probably end up liking it.

Arbitrary Rating: 6/10

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