My Life to Live (1962) – Godard Retrospective

Original Title: Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux
Jean-Luc Godard
Writer: Jean-Luc Godard
Starring: Anna Karina, Sady Rebbot, André S. Labarthe
Runtime: 85 min
Rating: R

A quintessential film in the history of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard created one of his most beautiful and emotional works with My Life to Live. Although unapologetic and calculated, every element in the film comes together to delve the spectator into the world of prostitution in a way that is seldom seen in cinema. Although one of his lesser-known films, it is one of his most astonishing.

My Life to Live

My Life to Live is the story of Nana Kleinfrankenheim, a woman who, tired of her relationship, leaves her husband and son behind in order to pursue an independent life. Her separation, however, doesn’t leave her in good standings, and she soon finds that her job in a record shop is not going to leave enough for her to survive. With a landlord who is more than willing to forbid her entrance to her home by force, Nana turns to prostitution in order to make a living. The film follows her journey into a world that, although it is often stylized in cinema, is not as boring, nor as thrilling, as one might suspect.

Of course, mention has to be made of Anna Karina’s beauty. It is she who drives the film, and the camera follows her everywhere. It is not only her face that is beautiful, but the way she speaks is beautiful, and the way she moves is beautiful; it is no wonder Godard chose her to play so many of his most iconic parts, including that of his wife. Karina has that je-ne–se-quoi combined with stunning features that make her a diamond in cinema. The best part is that she does not end with her looks, as her acting is also quite enjoyable. She brings life to Nana in the most vibrant way, making a character that is joyful, melancholic, naïve, and wise all at the same time, and that is not afraid to take on her different personalities fully. My Life to Live is one of the most wonderful installments of Anna Karina’s career, and that is saying a lot.

My Life to Live

The film’s cinematography and soundtrack are also terribly alluring. Karina’s face is flawlessly captured by the lens, and her features are exquisite under every lighting or shot, giving life to Nana in ways that do not depend on acting. The furtive shots of Paris are combined with a melancholic yet spirited soundtrack that breathe spirit into Nana’s life and the spectator’s experience. Despite being in black and white, there is so much texture in Karina’s character that colours are completely naked in the eye of the audience, and both sight and sound are deeply invested in the goings on of the film. Despite Nana’s life being slightly downcast, the experience is still highly enjoyable, and this becomes one of Godard’s less tiring works, in the sense that one can simply lay back and enjoy the scenery and story without having to be deeply invested in understanding the criticism that Godard often inserts. In a sense, it is an audience-friendly film that still manages to convey important ideals while maintaining a beautiful set up.

Although prostitution is a topic that might prevent some from indulging in this film, it shouldn’t be. Godard tackles it head on, in an honest and expository way that is highly rewarding for the spectator, especially in comparison with the portrayal of prostitution in other works. And for those that have only experienced Godard in his more cryptic films, this is a good way to get introduced to the more story driven side of him that has great things to offer.