Starring: Anna Karina, Sady Rebbot, André S. Labarthe
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Running Time: 85 mins
Vivre Sa Vie is a French film about a young Parisian woman whose life begins to descend into prostitution as she struggles to make ends meet and achieve her dreams.
The strange thing about Vivre Sa Vie is that, whilst it’s an engrossing and truly excellent drama, it moves along in such a way that you don’t always realise the gravity of what’s happening. On the one hand, that’s a downside, but on the other, it creates a haunting image of this woman’s gradual slip into a world of crime and prostitution, furthered by the film’s powerfully dark humour, gritty atmosphere and brilliant central performance.
First off, let’s talk about the film’s structure. The story is divided into 12 small episodes, each titled with the people and events that our main character, Nana, comes across. On the whole, this technique works pretty well, largely because of the way that it helps you to put an even deeper focus on each sequence of events in the story, something that’s often harder to do when the film isn’t broken up in the same way.
As a result of that, you have a much clearer memory of the sequence of events throughout the film, allowing for a much clearer reflection come the end. And that’s where this film really comes into its own. Whilst I felt that the episodic structure occasionally took away from the heartbreaking and heavy-going experience of watching this woman’s life fall apart so helplessly, upon finishing the film, the gradual and almost seamless nature in which that happened became all the more apparent, which made the film’s story all the more poignant for me.
Looking back on it now, the way that the film manages to flow so naturally, and portray Nana’s world turning upside down in an almost seamless way is absolutely brilliant, but there are moments that have an incredible emotional power when viewed in the context of the whole film. Anna Karina’s performance plays a large part in that, as she portrays Nana as an increasingly innocent and helpless character despite the world around her becoming darker and more dangerous, giving the story of her descent into prostitution a particularly sad note.
That really comes to the forefront in a few random but deeply moving moments where Karina looks right into the camera. More so than any other fourth-wall break I’ve ever seen, particularly from Godard, these brief moments perfectly sum up everything about her character and the story, as she looks deep into the camera with big, sad and helpless eyes, which I’ll definitely take away as a lasting impression from this film.
As far as the film’s atmosphere goes, it’s very gritty. Whilst Godard often interjects moments of humour, albeit the very dark and/or ironic sort, the story is mostly focused on showing how easily an innocent and intelligent person like Nana can fall into the dirty world of prostitution, and the subsequently brutal and almost mechanical nature of that business. Whilst it’s not always a powerfully heartbreaking and heavy-going film whilst you’re watching it, the finale’s shocking and unpredictable turn plays a big part in getting you to think about and reflect on everything you’ve seen before, which is where the film actually has its most power.
The film is excellent from start to finish, but there are still a couple of small problems that mean it’s not quite as stunning as it could be. For one, I would have liked to feel the same emotional power whilst watching the film that I did upon finishing it, and I felt that the seamless and non-melodramatic way in which Godard portrays the story, whilst unique and effective, took a little away from that possibility. Also, there are a few moments where conversations can descend into some very philosophical territory, and whilst they’re mostly used for humour, they go on a little too long and don’t add enough to the overall story arc.
Overall, however, I was hugely impressed by Vivre Sa Vie. A gritty and dark drama that features a very sad and poignant story, it’s an engrossing watch from start to finish, and although it’s not always quite as hard-hitting as I felt it should have been, it’s an effective, unique and interesting way to tell this story, featuring an excellent central performance and typically excellent directing from Jean-Luc Godard, which is why I’m giving it a 7.8.