Vivre sa vie: film en douze tableaux released in 1962 was the third of Jean-Luc Godard’s movies to star his wife Anna Karina. She plays Nana, a beautiful Parisian in her early twenties, who leaves her husband and infant son in the hope of becoming an actress.
Nana finds creating a new life in central Paris hard and expensive and eventually falls into prostitution. But Godard’s focus is not so much on the dangerous and exploited life of a Parisian prostitute, than on how hard it is for a woman to make an independent life for herself.
The director’s style, which includes alienation elements such as the use of intertitles, jump cuts and shooting characters from behind when they’re talking, or having them talk direct to camera, seems to distance us from Nana’s everyday reality.
Vivre sa vie can be seen as Godard’s portrait of the relationship between his film star wife and the director himself.
It’s as if Godard wants to continually remind us that Karina is an actress playing a prostitute, and perhaps too that even given his role as husband/director, an actress is somehow always seen as a kind of prostitute. She sells her soul and her existence to the pimps of creativity and gets relatively little in return.
Thanks to the direction and Raoul Coutard’s cinematography, Anna Karina is an iconic 60’s young Parisian woman even if her eventual fate is to be exploited and sold.
Vivre sa vie can be seen as Godard’s portrait of the relationship between his film star wife and the director himself. At one point Godard’s own voiceover says ‘It’s our story: a painter portraying his love.’
When a filmmaker, or an artist of any kind, uses his or her own close relationships to create works of art, these intensely personal elements can add real depth and truth to the work. ‘This is indeed life itself,’ as Godard’s voiceover says.
But creating art out of your own personal relationships is not without danger. An artist has to try to keep a creative distance and there can be many long-lasting dangers to relationships in turning the personal and private into a public experience.
Karina and Godard created one of the 60’s most iconic female French characters, but not without causing lasting damage to their own relationship.