Living Her Life 1962
I don’t know much about the French language (as I studied Japanese in High School) but the film was still known in English-speaking countries as Vivre sa vie. The words when I Google them indicated the words, loosely translated, are living her life, which makes sense as that’s what Nana does, just living her life day to day as life throws up the challenges that give people the choice to make this decision or that decision.
I think Vivre sa vie (1962) is brilliant. Brilliant, excellent, wonderful, insightful, revealing and well-crafted. Everything that Breathless (1960) wasn’t.
It bears the distinguishing marks of the approach to filmmaking that I have already been aware of with regard to Godard’s style. That style as I understand it (at least in this early period) was a piecemeal, often fragmented, approach.
This time it works beautifully to reveal the way events have unfolded to change a woman’s life from needing 2000 francs to doing something she’d never done before to earn the 2000 francs. In the twelve tabelauxs through quotations Godard reveals his interest in motivation for a person’s behaviour and in giving the main character her justification for what she decides to do with her life.
Unlike other films where a regular person is driven to prostitution, but with a heavy heart, Godard treats Nana as a specimen of life. She’s reluctant to go down this path but when it gives her what she wants – 2000 francs – she accepts it, and then embraces it. There’s no shame in what she has accepted. She needs money and there’s a way to make money that doesn’t cause much grief between her mind, her body and her soul. What follows is worth a lot more than 2000 francs. Comparing it with her job selling LPs in a record store it’s as different as chalk and cheese when compared with what she has to do in her new profession and what she gets for selling her body instead of records. Undressed-sex as opposed to clothed-sex is a difference of two thousand francs per client.
Godard’s more assured use of camera is more about what he doesn’t do than what he does do. His style is less manic and more measured in approach. In almost every instance the approach is about setting up beautifully-framed shots than doing everything on the run.
The storytelling seeme to be more deliberate. He’s got a number of ideas in his head which he wants to realise as scenes in a film. He has a subtitle calling the film, A Film in Twelve Scenes. He didn’t need to do that because the twelve scenes would cut together without the explanation as they still have continuity of thought and design. But it is like Godard felt he needed to clearly state what he is doing in every scene. Possibly this is in response to criticism for not doing that in Breathless (1960).
More significant than anything discussed above is the fact that Godard gives more importance to words that mean something (or count for something) in Vivre sa vie. He also creates spaces in the film where there is dialogue and would normally be effects, where there is the cold, cold silence of the complete absence of sound.
Additionally, he has created a situation in the film where he doesn’t have to create a screenplay with only his own words because he is going to spend equal – or more – time quoting other people’s words.
This doesn’t come across as a substitution in the screenplay for words that Godard doesn’t have to say by including the words of many others (even though it may well have been his intention and design). They’re meant as words which have significant meaning for anyone living life – and words which are wise, beautiful and insightful as they apply to many people’s life.
The way that Godard introduces the words into the scenes is inventive, doing it in several different ways. One time, for example, it is is a detailed scene which shows Nana writing a letter. She does it in real time and it is actually very peaceful, calming and relaxing to watch. Other times it is through hearing the words of a song or someone reciting the history of the laws of prostitution in France and what a prostitute needs to be careful about in her daily approach to work. Sometimes someone recounts the essential plot points of a book. That scene is quite remarkable as Nana goes and sits with an elderly gentleman, chatting him up, to see if could be persuaded to become her next client. Instead, he tells her many interesting things.
Although there’s another feature film and a short film or two between his first and third feature, there’s a significant maturity to Vivre sa vie which is exceedingly obvious when watching Breathless (1960) and Vivre sa vie (1962) back-to-back.