Would one blush for the religiously realistic art of the cinema if we were not eaten away by an unhappy desire to change the world? But here artistic creation does not mean painting one's soul in things, but painting the soul of things.
Jean-Luc Godard, 1952.
Breathless boosted Godard to the rank of New Wave leader - along with Truffaut, his prizewinning colleague - by introducing him to critics, audiences, and fellow cineastes as a certified enfant terrible with a taste for the innovative (those jump cuts!) and the offbeat (that ambiguous ending!) rivaled by few others on the contemporary scene.
He quickly started work on The Little Soldier, his second feature. Here he continued his exploration of film-noirt errain, adding a political inflection via its protagonist: an undercover agent combating a left-wing organization during the acutely controversial war for Algerian independence. The drama puzzled many observers with its lack of political coherence, but Godard promptly explained that this was one of its most admirable qualities; his intention, after all, was to depict an ethically confused character in a film meant to seem "like a secret diary, a notebook, or the monologue of someone trying to justify himself before an almost accusing camera, as one does before a lawyer or a psychiatrist." Godard's own justifications are as problematic as the "thriller" itself - among other things, he suggests that to understand the movie one must somehow "sense" his oftenshifting "distance" from the characters - and it is tempting to write off both the film and the self-analysis as honorable failures in a still-young career. Carefully considered, though, the film and the retrospective comments show Godard's growing recognition of how conventional cinema joins other instruments of cultural control - including law and psychiatry, which he specifically names - in producing and reproducing social norms that hinder freedom and happiness. Foucault and Louis Althusser are among the philosophers who have developed this idea, and Godard rings interesting variations on it.
Moving to color cinematography and a radically different genre, Godard then wrote and directed A Woman Is a Woman, a musical shot on studio soundstages. Calling it "my first real film" and "the one I like best," he said afterward that his inspiration had been Charles Chaplin's observation that "tragedy is life in close-up, and comedy, life in long shot." Ornery as always, Godard turned this dictum on its head, attempting to make "a close-up comedy." He claimed after its highly uneven reception that it had been most popular in "countries noted for their wit," not including France, where it "didn't go down well."
His next production was "Sloth," a 15-minute contribution to the 1961 anthology film The Seven Capital Sins. Unfazed by its less-than-gracious treatment from the critical corps, of which he still considered himself an active member, he plunged swiftly into his next project: My Life to Live, the story of a young woman named Nana who becomes a prostitute - the first of several Godard heroines to take this desperate route and meets a tragic end. He began shooting on Paris locations in early 1962 and emerged a few weeks later with one of the most emotionally and intellectually rich achievements in all of New Wave filmmaking.
Before a full discussion of My Life to Live, it is worth taking a closer look at Godard's ideas and working methods in the period after Breathless launched his career. His interests certainly changed in some respects. Although his second feature recalls Breathless with its cars, travel, and skepticism toward bourgeois mores, for instance, its political themes and thriller atmosphere have little of the Beat-hipster spirit about them.
Still, one aspect of the Beat sensibility remained very much in view: improvisation. This was partly a professional tic that Godard had trouble shaking; even his first short movies had been "prepared very carefully" but "shot very quickly," as he described the process. It was also a deliberate way of maintaining the sense of immediacy that had raced through his earlier features.
Although his comments on the shooting of The Little Soldier are somewhat vague, Godard appears to have begun the film by writing a partial scenario giving key moments of the story. He also decided it would take place in Geneva, perhaps because this is a "capital city of capitalism," in one critic's phrase, and perhaps because he had visited the city as a child (during stays with his mother's wealthy family) and knew the area well. Other aspects of the narrative were so uncertain that shooting lasted four times longer than the two weeks he had anticipated. Scenes were frequently written the same morning they were to be shot, as Godard wrestled with bouts of "thinking" and "hesitating" brought on by the challenge of exploring longtime interests while avoiding the "anything goes" mentality of his first feature. (Dialogue for Breathless had been dashed off the evening before scenes were shot, an almost leisurely pace by comparison!) One important scene, an interview centered on Anna Karina's character, was shot in a completely improvised style - "she didn't know in advance what questions I would ask her" - inspired by Jean Rouch, an ethnographic filmmaker who became a hero for Godard and other New Wave directors by using spontaneous cinema to explore diverse cultures and personalities. Godard's academic background was in ethnography, and while he has rarely emphasized this in comments or interviews, it attests a longlasting interest in real-time, on-the-spot probing of subjects that have caught his attention.
The scriptwriting for A Woman Is a Woman was equally unorthodox. On one hand, Godard started with a "very detailed scenario" and "followed it word for word, down to the last comma." Yet while that sounds very responsible, the writing of specific action and dialogue was more of a down-to-the-wire process than ever, with Godard jotting material at the studio while the performers applied their makeup. Once again he was rediscovering a knack he shared with Kerouac: being able to weave spur-of-the-moment inspirations from a familiar material that had already been bouncing obsessively around his mind. As he described it later, "one only thinks of things [for insertion into a film] one has been thinking about for a long time."
Despite his gift for improvisation, Godard realized throughout this period that there is something to be said for writing a movie before directing it. Indeed, he tried to say "never again" to spur-of-the-moment creativity as early as 1961, when The Little Soldier was completed. Since he kept sliding into last-minute shooting patterns anyway, however, he eventually decided to call this his "method" and simply live with it - arranging fiveweek shooting schedules while knowing that the actual photography would occupy only two weeks, so the rest could be devoted to thought and reflection. My Life to Live was shot over four weeks, but the entire second week was a hiatus, giving Godard time to think. This irritated his performers, who disliked hanging around an idle location with no idea when their director would decide to roll the camera again.
What he sought in this film was so unconventional that one doubts a more commonplace methodology would have proved any more efficient. While he wasn't looking for any "particular effects," he wanted to explore some of his most deeply felt themes through an approach he later called theatre-verite. By this he meant a sort of "theatrical realism" that combines the arbitrariness of stage drama - unfolding in continuous "blocks" that cannot be "retouched" by the director - with film's unique ability to capture "chance" events in a "definitive" way.
To this end, he designed scenes that would be shot one time only, in the same order as the story - itself an unusual procedure, since in standard filmmaking scenes are generally shot more than once, in a chronology different from the final movie. Then he spliced the shots together with a minimum of editing. The result of this procedure has a mood very different from the breathlessness of Breathless, the elusiveness of The Little Soldier, and the effervescence of A Woman Is a Woman. Still, the sense of spontaneity remains strong, reflecting Godard's success at making a complex and multilayered "impromptu" film "right off the bat, as if carried along, like an article written at one go." Again he used the Beat-like values of honesty and authenticity to justify his methods. "I didn't know exactly what I was going to do," he reported later. "I prefer to look for something I don't know, rather than be able to do better with something I do know." Karina felt "a little unhappy because she never really knew beforehand what she would have to do," he added. "But she was so sincere in her desire to make the film that between us we brought it off."
Perhaps the strongest influence on My Life to Live is that of Bertolt Brecht, whose connection with Godard was briefly discussed in the first chapter. Brecht's spirit had suffused A Woman Is a Woman from its opening moments - when the filmmaker's cry of "Lights! Camera! Action!" rings out over the credits - and here it reaches its first full flowering in Godard's work. Brecht's great breakthrough as a dramatic theorist stemmed from a problem he faced as a politically committed playwright. The more effectively he involved spectators in the flow of his story and the psychology of his characters, he realized, the less likely they were to focus on (or even notice) the sociocultural critiques he was trying to convey. To solve this dilemma, he developed a new form of drama - the epic theater - in which various devices purposely "alienate" audience members from the show they are watching. This is meant to promote active thought instead of passive emotionalism, leading the audience to think about the drama instead of sinking into it.
Brecht recognized the value of theatrical conventions, including effective storytelling, for attracting an audience and holding its attention. Therefore he found it acceptable for playwrights to illustrate points by dramatic means - assailing the evils of capitalism, say, by showing an avaricious factory owner laying off a conscientious worker who has no other way to support his hungry children. However, he also knew that if a writer crafted such a scene in a truly spellbinding way, spectators might be so consumed with worry over the worker's fate that the evils of capitalism per se would never occur to them. Hence, the practitioner of epic theater might interrupt the episode with a parade of picketers carrying signs ("The Evils of Capitalism") across the stage, or perhaps the cast would break into a song that spelled out the message in its lyrics. If done too didactically, of course, such shenanigans might alienate the audience clear out of the theater; so Brecht made his "A-effects" as entertaining and stimulating as possible. He also worked out a theory of acting that countered the introspective tendencies of Konstantin Stanislavski's influential "Method" with a "presentational" style, calling for performers to reveal their own attitudes toward the characters instead of psychologically "disappearing" into their roles.
Godard had Brecht firmly in mind when he designed My Life to Live as a series of twelve scenes or "tableaux," with a self-consciously "theatrical" feel and a deliberately episodic structure. "I wanted to show the 'Adventures of Nana So-and-so' side of it," he recalled later. The division into separate tableaux, he added, "corresponds to the external view of things which would best allow me to convey the feeling of what was going on inside.... How can one render the inside? Precisely by staying prudently outside."
This is another in Godard's long list of murky clarifications, but it points to an idea that is indispensable in understanding this film and most of his others: that cinema, like painting and other visual arts, is a valuable yet problematic tool for casting light on human beings and the existential reality in which they dwell. Godard recognizes that externals are all the camera and sound recorder can grasp and that such outward signs superficial by definition - may seem sadly inadequate if one is looking for the "inner selves" of psychologically defined characters. Nevertheless, he also rejects "the Antonioni error" that claims "non-communication" is cinema's most natural subject. "I think it is wrong to say that the more you look at someone the less you understand," he said in 1962. The externals captured by cinema can be highly suggestive if one accepts the notion that inner selves are inseparable from the external actions they trace on the world around them. "A painter who tries to render a face only renders the outside of people; and yet something else is revealed," Godard says. "It's very mysterious. It's an adventure." My Life to Live was thus "an intellectual adventure: I wanted to film a thought in action - but how do you do it? We still don't know."
We still don't know, but we have been trying to find out since the early days of cinema. Another of Godard's heroes, American film pioneer D. W. Griffith, stated many times that "movies are the science of photographing thought," and while Godard brings far more philosophical sophistication to his efforts, on a fundamental level he is exploring the same set of problems faced by his illustrious predecessor. It must be remembered, however, that in seeking to film "a thought in action" it is the action more than the thought - that is, the traceable behaviorial activity more than its evanescent psychological content - that Godard takes as his main concern. This is not because he finds psychology uninteresting, but because it is more a hurdle than a stepping-stone on his road to intuiting and embracing the mysteries of being human. He signals this in an early scene of My Life to Live that stands with the most resonant moments in his work. Nana and her former husband are finishing a bumpy but not entirely unpleasant conversation by having a friendly pinball game. He mentions some school assignments that his father has been reading, and says some of them are quite remarkable. The camera makes a small but deliberate movement that isolates Nana in the center of the frame, underscoring her thoughtful attitude as she listens to a quotation from a pupil's essay: "A bird is an animal with an inside and an outside. Remove the outside, there's the inside. Remove the inside, and you see the soul."
This summarizes much of Godard's cinematic and philosophical project. All movies consist of "outside" material, that is, visual and auditory records of exterior realities. Movies aspiring to "artistic" status attempt to take things a step further, going "beyond" surface representations to suggest "inner," psychological realities that cannot be directly depicted. Godard wishes to go further still, stripping away psychology in order to expose something more profound and mysterious - a "something else" that can only be approached through oxymoronic genres like theatre verite and eccentric creative processes like the one to which Godard cryptically alludes when he says the film "was made by a sort of second presence."
My Life to Live announces its structure - "a film in 12 tableaux" - at the beginning of its opening credits. True to Godard's opinion that the "greatest tableaux are portraits," it then presents a portrait of Nana/Karina's face, seen in three leisurely shots (left profile, front view, right profile) as credits continue to roll. The lighting is dark, shadowy, sad. More important, Nana/Karina is not posing prettily for the camera. Her face is quiet, yet mobile; still, yet charged with an emotional current that seems compelling even though the film has not defined it yet through word or action.
Accompanying this portrait is the first statement of Michel Legrand's remarkable music score, a series of brief passages played by a chamber orchestra. In conventional films the background score is often used to communicate a character's inner feelings to the audience, and although that certainly happens here - the music reinforces our impression that this is not a happy woman - the psychological effect is deliberately thrown off kilter by apparent mismatches between sound and picture, which seem to be following their own schedules instead of trudging along in Hollywoodstyle synchronization. The music comes and goes at unexpected times, and much of the sequence passes in silence, focusing attention on the visual image with rare intensity. This all amounts to a bold violation of classicalfilm structure - and a highly effective one, since it signals that although this movie will contain familiar elements of ordinary cinema, these will not assume their conventional roles of soothing, distracting, and entertaining the audience. Instead, each will maintain its own aesthetic integrity even as it contributes to the film as a whole. It will be up to the spectator - the active, participating, Brechtian spectator - to perceive their interrelationships and ferret out their meanings.
First tableau: A CAFE, NANA WANTS TO LEAVE PAUL. THE PINBALL MACHINE. In keeping with its strategy of separation and fragmentation, the film introduces each of its twelve scenes with a full-screen intertitle that interrupts the story and announces the main events that are about to happen. Working against traditional notions of cinematic suspense, this formal maneuver seems surprising in conjunction with a story that could have been treated as a thriller or film noir if the director had chosen.
The first scene throws the audience into even deeper Brechtian waters through its disorienting camera work. Nana and Paul, her former husband, are having a long conversation at the bar of a cafe, and everything about Raoul Coutard's cinematography is designed to make their alienation from each other not just a narrative point but a living, discomforting reality for the audience. Positioned directly behind the characters, the camera persistently films the backs of their heads, refusing the psychologically revealing facial expressions that ordinary film grammar would demand at such a moment. Their faces are occasionally visible in a mirror over the bar, but the view is distant and intermittent as the camera moves from one spot to another, often preventing even their backs from appearing together within the frame. Nana's hand touches Paul's head in a fleeting gesture near the end of their talk, and the effect is almost jarring in a scene (and a movie) where physical contact looms as a constant threat (violence, prostitution) while physical affection (caressing, embracing) is largely unknown.
By starting with this Brechtian flourish, Godard introduces theatre verite as a means of engaging us with characters who do not fit any of the standard movie categories. On one hand, they are not fully developed figures inviting us to identify with them emotionally; we have little idea who they are (the husband's part in the story never becomes entirely clear) and for a long time we can barely make out what they look like. On the other hand, they are not just abstract embodiments of sociocultural types either; their main concern here - clearing the wreckage of a shattered relationship - is recognizably human and poignant. In any case, if their vagueness makes them seem elusive, our resulting curiosity leads us to focus more closely on whatever clues the scene does offer about them, and thus to enter the world of the movie all the more intently. Most impressive of all is their concreteness, the quality Godard pursued in The Little Soldier, and obviously an important trait for any filmd escribed by a term like theatre verite. Photographed almost as if they were objects that happen to be in the room, Nana and Paul are more like two-dimensional graphics than three-dimensional personalities. This is because they are not "fleshed out" psychologically, and also because of two reasons directly linked to the cinematography: (a) Their images are conveyed partly by reflections in a mirror, and (b) the camera's lateral movements (a gesture Godard will use vigorously in later works) tend to flatten space sideways instead of exploring it in depth. Still, this very two-dimensionality, brooded over by Coutard's obsessive lens, gives them a pictorial presence that effortlessly dominates the scene's black-and-white images, allowing the couple to make up in physicality what they lack (so far) in context and psychology. This is enhanced by the film's use of directly recorded sound, free of the mellifluous mixing that makes Hollywood-type sound tracks at once seductive and inauthentic.
The dialogue also contributes to Godard's quest for concreteness. Answering one of Paul's inconsequential questions with a question of her own, Nana asks "What do you care?" and then repeats the phrase several times in a row. At first she might be mimicking Patricia's repetitions ("Of course. Of course? Of course!") in Breathless, and to some extent her role playing is similar; Nana once appeared in a movie with Eddie Constantine, we will learn later on, and still wishes to become an actress, which might help her navigate more effectively through life by projecting a more practiced persona. Her reiterations have less to do with performing, however, than with a desperate attempt to grasp the mercurial meanings she feels within her conflicted self - to understand her turbulent "inside" by projecting it "outside," through words and behaviors that can be held and examined like other physical phenomena. "I wanted to be very precise," she explains to Paul, lamenting the difficulty of holding onto meaning long enough to express it accurately. Paul misses the point, telling her not to "parrot" words, since she's not on a stage. "The more we talk, the less words mean," she says a little later, but the anxiety produced by her alienated emotions ("I'm fed up. I want to die") is equally lost on her companion, who accuses her of "parrot talk" again.
Parrot talk it may be, but its purpose is deadly serious. Nana seizes upon the sounds of words in a compulsive effort to possess the meanings they presumably contain, and thereby to reconfirm her own sense of existence, which has been shaken by the destabilizing events in her life. Godard's camera records her plight at once dispassionately and compassionately. This approach might be contradictory in less gifted hands but is made effective by Godard's conviction that cool, attentive observation ("staying prudently outside") is a reliable route to honest concern with Nana's predicament and the social circumstances that cause it. The impersonality of the setting, the distanced placements of the camera, the repetitive rhythms of the dialogue, and the hard-edged realism of the sound combine to amplify the scene's implicit cultural critique; who wouldn't have trouble holding their lives together in such an atmosphere? At the same time they mute the melodramatic undertones that a less Brechtian filmmaker might readily have exploited. The episode concludes with the pinball game, Paul's parable of the soul, and Nana's silent gaze at a world (visible in its wintry bleakness through the window beside her) that is both more absolute and more enigmatic than her sad experiences have prepared her to expect.
Second tableau: THE RECORD SHOP. 2,000 FRANCS, NANA LIVES HER LIFE. Pursuing his agenda of foregrounding the filmmaking process - motivated partly by Brechtian politics, partly by New Wave cinephilia - Godard begins the next tableau by removing all sound during two documentarystyle shots of Paris streets. He then replaces the restless shot-to-shot editing of the cafe scene with lengthy pans, showing Nana at work as a record-store clerk. She seems less alienated here than in the cafe, and the camera's easy movements lend a supple attractiveness to the scene. They almost suggest that unremarkable working-class life might not be a terrible burden if Nana didn't long for something better, symbolized by her movie-acting ambitions.
Her uneasiness is as profound as it is perplexing, however, and her "thought in action" is too intricate and mysterious to be contained by the commonsense experiences of ordinary work in ordinary places. The limits of any merely rational approach to her existential plight (by the character or the filmmaker) are underscored when one of her coworkers reads a lengthy excerpt from a magazine story that includes the cautionary sentence, "You attach too much importance to logic." Rebelling against the prison houses of logic and language alike, Nana is determined to live her one and only life on terms of her own invention - a heroic ambition that cannot be fulfilled in the confines of a middle-class record shop that deals in exactly the sort of prerecorded, predigested sounds that Godard has rejected for the purposes of telling her story. Like the first tableau, the second concludes with Nana in a pensive pose, listening to her colleague's droning voice as Coutard's lens slips past her and focuses on the flow of city life streaming past the store window in all its crisp materiality.
Third tableau: THE CONCIERGE, PAUL. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC. The beginning of the next tableau seamlessly joins the distancing of Brechtian stylistics with the psychological suspense of traditional narrative. Nana lives in an apartment complex separated from the street by a forbidding wall. She wants to enter her apartment even though she has not paid her rent, and knows the concierge will not permit her on the premises. We know nothing of this situation as the episode begins, however. Positioned inside the courtyard, the camera shows the gateway to the area, flanked by large patches of shadow cast by the wall. Nana appears in the gateway, making a conventional entrance into the scene, but abruptly turns and hops back through the entryway, disappearing from view. Immediately the same action recurs twice again, exactly as if Nana were not a character but an actress who had stepped within camera range (or onto the stage) before her scene had begun. Only after these false starts does Nana actually enter the space of the episode, where she is promptly accosted by the concierge and forced into a series of quick activities (photographed from an all-encompassing overhead angle) that make up a small catalog of performative maneuvers: a contrite apology, a sneaky grab for her key, and finally submission to her opponents. These adversaries show enough satisfaction in their little victory to remind us of the (Brechtian) point that we might be identifying with them, instead of with Nana, if Nana were not given a privileged position within the narrative.
After a nondescript meeting with Paul, who holds even less interest for her than he did earlier, Nana goes to a movie theater - and no ordinary theater, since it's not only showing a silent film made more than three decades before she bought her ticket, but also displays the film's title (The Passion of Joan of Arc) in huge neon letters, as if this were the only attraction that ever played there. The visual importance given to the title is appropriate, since while Nana seems to approach this as an everyday visit to the movies - complete with a date who seems romantically interested in her - her response to the film is profound and all-consuming, enveloping her in a set of emotions as deep as any she encounters during her story.
In a broad sense, this scene is another sign of the historically minded cinephilia that Godard shares with his New Wave colleagues; he sees nothing odd in the notion that a working-class Parisian would select a religious silent film of 1928 from her local movie listings, and he makes the most of his opportunity to fill the screen with indelible images from Carl Dreyer's masterpiece. Much more is also going on, however, as Godard cuts with a slow, steady rhythm between Dreyer's expressive close-ups and his own close-ups of Nana's transfixed, often tearful gaze.
• The scene plunges us into the heart of Nana's emotional life, allowing us not only to observe but to feel the intensity of her identification with Joan of Arc, the peasant girl who chooses to suffer an awful death rather than renounce her belief that God has a special destiny in store for her. The destiny of which Nana dreams is more modest and secular to be appearing in movies rather than watching them - but it's no coincidence that her onetime acting job with Eddie Constantine was in a picture called No Pity, a title that applies both to Joan's plight and to the fate Nana will meet at the end of her adventures. Nana's tears flow for Joan, for herself, and for a world in which the pitiless have a monopoly on power.
• The pitiless are often men. Although we are still near the beginning of Nana's story, it is already clear that men have offered little to enrich her life. Paul doesn't interest her much, Eddie Constantine is in a different orbit, and few other males appear to have much relevance for her; in later scenes they will provide more harm than help. No wonder she gazes with awe and sympathy as Joan looks into the masculine face of affliction. Ironically, the rigid grasp of this affliction is embodied by a handsome young monk who commiserates with Joan even as he reveals her fate's horrible details. The silence of the scene adds to its power, which culminates when the screen fills with a single word spelled in implacably black letters against a pulsing white background: "La mort," the death that will still Joan's mortal voice and allow her the spiritual deliverance her sufferings have earned.
• The silence of the episode derives from Dreyer's silent film, of course, but it also anticipates a scene near the end of My Life to Live when a minor character will be filmed without sound so that Godard's own postsynchronized voice can be substituted for his, mingling artistic expression with personal confession. The later scene is foreshadowed here, suggesting that Godard's personal feelings about the story he is telling - including its double nature as a theatre-verite fiction and a portrait of Karina, his wife and collaborator - are linked with the cinematic admiration and philosophical wonder that The Passion of Joan of Arc inspires in him.
• The monk, Jean Massieu, is played by Antonin Artaud, a figure of great relevance to Godard's career. A radical French theorist with extreme ideas about the morality and philosophy of art, he wrote voluminously during a long career that included forays into acting and filmmaking. He also underwent recurring bouts of schizophrenic behavior that led to long-term incarceration in an asylum. Among his most influential ideas is his call for an innovative "theater of cruelty" so deeply immersed in humanity's naked suffering that its performances would resemble the contortions of condemned prisoners burning at the stake and signaling through the flamest o onlookers at their immolation. Godard pays tribute to him twice over in My Life to Live: by incorporating his image within the film, and by doing so via the specific scene in The Passion of Joan of Arc where his character informs Joan of the tortures she will shortly have to undergo. The sight of mad, tormented Artaud with doomed, tormented Joan - two figures at once transfigured and nearly crushed by enigmatic revelations - adds greatly to the resonance of this extraordinary moment. (Godard's colleague Jacques Rivette invokes Artaud with a more sweeping gesture in his masterful film Out One: Spectre, the setting of which is identified as "Paris and its double," an obvious reference to Artaud's most famous theoretical work, The Theater and Its Double.)
• Just as Nana's double becomes the threatened and imprisoned Joan, so Karina's double becomes Maria Falconetti, who plays the heroine in Dreyer's film. Dreyer's method of filming Joan's interrogation has become famous (and infamous) in cinematic circles: By taking repeated shots of arduously dramatic moments under physically demanding conditions, he subjected Falconetti to hardships almost as difficult and unpleasant (though of course not so terrifying and interminable) as some of those that were inflicted on the real-life character she portrayed. The result is a performance that partakes, in a small but authentic way, of the awful ordeal it is meant to represent. This is theatre-verite with a vengeance, and Dreyer's comments on his use of relentless close-ups to convey Joan's anguish apply with surprising force to Godard's employment of the same device. "The records give a shattering impression of the ways in which the trial was a conspiracy of the judges against the solitary Jeanne," the Danish filmmaker notes, "bravely defending herself against men who displayed a devilish cunning to trap her in their net. This conspiracy could be conveyed on the screen only through huge close-ups that exposed, with merciless realism, the callous cynicism of the judges" and thereby moved the audience so greatly "that they would themselves feel the suffering that Jeanne endured." Godard's portrayal of Nana as a pawn ensnared by male-generated greed and power shares much with Dreyer's view of Joan as the victim of a power/knowledge network manipulated by men hoping to further certain ideological aims. Another contact point between the two filmmakers is their insistence on the material presence of the images that anchor their stories. Both want to stay in intimate touch with what critic Raymond Carney calls "the accidental and particular .. . the undeconstructable human being with a real body who is at the center of the role, and who emphatically won't be reduced to ... a mere semiotic function of a film'ss ystems of artistic expression." Godard could not have said it more directly. Neither could Dreyer, another thinker with a leaning toward Brecht-like politics and a profound sympathy for the plight of women trapped within patriarchal societies as rigidly as Joan and Nana are trapped by the hard-edged borders of their close-ups.
After the film-within-a-film concludes, Nana shakes off her date, who expresses irritation at this; he paid for her movie ticket, after all. This is a small but meaningful detail, since the man's expectation of a payoff on his investment foreshadows the commercial arrangements Nana will enter as a prostitute. It also shows the ubiquity of a sex-as-commerce ideology - the power of masculine money to command feminine sexuality - in contemporary society.
Still dreaming of a show-business career, she then meets with a man who offers to compile nude photos she can use to market her charms in the movie world; again we see the prevalence of commercial sexuality in the realm of "respectable" business, "popular" entertainment, and "responsible" self-improvement. Nana is interested, but right now she's preoccupied with getting 2,000 francs to pay her rent and get her life in order. The camera follows their conversation in another intrusive variation on "normal" cinematic style - swinging from one side to another as it frames first Nana, then her companion, then both together in a conspicuously long, fluid take. It then lingers on the empty bar after they leave, again stressing the transience of Nana's presence within a material environment that exists quite independently of her activities.
Fourth tableau: THE POLICE, NANA IS QUESTIONED. Nana sits before a window, thrown into silhouette by the glare shining through the dirty glass. Her appearance in silhouette is significant, suggesting that individuality is hard to sustain when one is hauled into an impersonal office and subjected to questioning by a near-anonymous minion of the law.
Responding to the police officer's questions, Nana tells a new tale of sadness. She admits she tried to steal 1,000 francs by placing her foot over a banknote dropped by someone on the street, but lost her nerve under a long, hard stare from the woman who lost it - a mean-spirited woman, Nana complains with fiery emotion, who had her arrested even though she returned the money. The policeman takes down her story impassively, framed by Godard as if his typewriter were more important than he is.
The most interesting visual element of the scene is a framed image, hanging on the police-station wall, showing a few male figuresu underneath what appears to be a giant-sized arm and hand stretched over their heads. This may be seen as literally the long arm of the law, signifying the power/ knowledge complex that makes all the decisions here - following its own dictates and unlikely to care about the social circumstances that have led someone like Nana into her current plight. Alternatively, it may be taken as another Artaudian allusion, this time invoking The Spurt of Blood, a dramatic work published in 1925. In this play a chaotic episode involving a prostitute and a priest climaxes with God's enormous hand reaching across the stage and setting fire to the woman's hair, whereupon she becomes "naked and hideous," bites God on the wrist, and sexually embraces a young man until the arrival of a dead girl who is dropped on the ground, "where she collapses and becomes as flat as a pancake." Godard's film will reach an ending somewhat similar to that of Artaud's scene, etched in terms that are no less abrupt and upsetting, if far more naturalistic in tone.
Also significant is the end of the episode, when the officer asks how she will now take care of herself. "I don't know," she replies. "I... I is another." Nana does not usually slide into sloppy syntax, or into the unconventional language of avant-garde literature - her second phrase is a famous one, written by Arthur Rimbaud in an 1871 letter - so we must think seriously about these hesitant words. On one level, she is manifesting the existential alienation produced by a society that sadly lacks the capacity for guiding, nurturing, and consoling its inhabitants; in such circumstances, one's self may seem almost as alien (an other) as the glaring stranger who hands you to the cops despite the need and desperation flickering through your eyes.
At the same time, Karina the actress is showing both her close identification with and critical distance toward the character she plays. She achieves this double state through the Brechtian technique of not burrowing into Nana, but standing alongside her so as to "observe" her actions and "quote" her words - "staying prudently outside" in order to refract "inside" realities. Legrand's music makes a strategic return to render the moment even more dramatically effective. Note too that the purposeful lapse of grammar in Nana's unwittingly quoted sentence ("Je est un autre") again marks Godard's willful resistance of common sense - shared with Rimbaud, who called for a "systematic derangement of the senses" as a pathway to social and aesthetic liberty - as it destabilizes "correct" communication with an openness of which a child, a visionary, or a poet could be proud.
Nana turns her face into profile after speaking, and the camera eye zips away into empty space an instant before fade-out. This signals the end of what might be called her "normal life." She will now become a victim of the sexual commerce that she sees as her only escape route from loneliness and fear, which surround her like Joan's rough, uncomforting cloak.
Fifth tableau: THE BOULEVARDS, THE FIRST MAN. THE ROOM. The camera tracks down a Parisian boulevard. Then we see Nana making her way down the sidewalk, and we view the neighborhood's prostitutes through her curious eyes. A man picks her up; they enter a sad-looking little room; and we observe the details of their preparations - including Nana's uncertainty about her price, which turns out to be 4,000 francs - in a long scene with quick, almost clinical editing. The tableau ends with one of the film's most agonizing scenes: another Dreyeresque close-up, as the camera moves in for a relentlessly long take of the client's attempt to kiss Nana on the mouth. She resists by swinging her face frantically from side to side, vainly trying to evade the intimacy her new trade will force on her until the end.
Sixth tableau: MEETING YVETTE. A CAFE IN THE SUBURBS, RAOUL. GUNSHOTS IN THE STREET. Nana has a sidewalk conversation with her friend Yvette, filmed from a vantage point behind Nana's head; we don't see their faces until Coutard's camera belatedly swings around when the scene is well under way. Moments later the camera makes an equally conspicuous gesture when it moves from the women on one side of a cafe to a young man named Raoul on the other, where he's pumping away at a typically Godardian pinball machine. These are elegantly Brechtian visuals, contributing to the film's narrative intelligence while discouraging facile immersion in its emotional and psychological levels. Back at their cafe table, Yvette tells Nana the story of her unhappy marriage and her entry into prostitution; the camera focuses mainly on Nana as she sympathetically listens. In an unexpected shift of tone, the film then makes a strikingly explicit statement of the existentialist viewpoint that Godard brings to this story and the issues it raises. Responding to Yvette's claim that life is depressing but it's not her fault, Nana states her belief that
we're always responsible for our actions. We're free. I raise my hand, I'm responsible. I turn my head, I'm responsible. I am unhappy, I'm responsible. I smoke, I'm responsible. I shut my eyes, I'm responsible. I forget I'm responsible, but I am. I told you, there's no escape. Everything is good. You only have to take an interest in things. . . . After all, things are what they are. A message is a message. Plates are plates. Men are men. And life is life.
It is clear from this speech that existence still precedes essence in Godard's work, and our selves are still determined by our behaviors. Nevertheless, we should not take Nana's words as a manifesto by the filmmaker, since she is expressing what might be called a pop-culture version of existentialist thought. Stated in repetitive, ritualistic phrases that frame its meaning in terms closer to religious rhetoric than logical argument, her litany has the sophistication of, say, a self-help manual or a greeting card. Godard's decision to focus on her ideas in this way reflects his perennial skepticism toward logic itself, even when logic might bolster the philosophical views to which he feels closest. The scene also renews our sense of Nana's vulnerability, revealing her need to convince herself oi her liberty even as she preaches freedom to her companion.
Left out of her statement, of course, is any hint of political awareness, with which Godard is becoming increasingly concerned as the 1960s progress. Nana may feel she bears responsibility for the conditions of her life, but the seductions of Raoul the pimp and the realities of Parisian prostitution - about to be revealed in a documentarylike scene full of facts and figures - will soon show how easily the illusions of individual choice can be shattered. Bearing out this theme, Yvette chats with Raoul while Nana listens to a foolishly romantic pop song about the simple pleasures of the poor. Happiness is a matter not of socioeconomic status, its music and lyrics suggest, but of having an attractive lover to cuddle up with between shifts on the assembly line. The illusory nature of Nana's supposed freedom is underscored by the next incident in her story. Raoul administers a "test" to determine whether she is a "lady" or a "tramp," and although she "passes" this exam laughing instead of bristling when Raoul showers her with insults - her response verifies his view of human nature as a matter of stereotypes and categories. (He starts his insults, incidentally, by accusing her of "parroting" his words - recalling the charge of artificiality and unoriginality that Paul made against her in the first tableau.) If she were truly a free agent, moreover, Nana might end her relationship with Raoul after glimpsing the book in which he records the accounts of his prostitutes, reducing them from full humanity to the degraded level of mere numbers in a ledger; yet she makes no move to reduce her involvement with this sleazy new acquaintance.
It is during her glance at this book that the awful sound of gunfire bursts into the cafe from the street outside, magnifying the implicit violence of Raoul's dehumanizing trade into the explicit violence of a whole society steeped in antagonism, exploitation, and commodification of bodies and souls. The mayhem is as random as the action of Raoul's pinball machine, as inevitable as the markings on his account sheets; yet lingering naivete makes Nana as blind to its deeper meanings as the victim who staggers into the bar with blood smeared over his eyes.
As if compensating for their tragic inability to see, Godard injects the gunfire's horror into the very fabric of his film, blasting frames out of Coutard's rapid pan shot in a display of jump cutting whose likes we haven't seen since Breathless. Nana makes a panicky exit as the material world closes suffocatingly in and the cinematic world blows explosively apart. Raoul will later say "some political thing" caused the madness. He will be correct.
Seventh tableau: THE LETTER, RAOUL AGAIN, THE CHAMPS-ELYSEES. Seeking a better place to ply her new trade, Nana writes to the madam of a nearby brothel. Godard uses the occasion to reinforce the link between his improvisatory theatre-verite and the human lives - fictional (Nana) and nonfictional (Karina) - that are its subjects. Peering over Nana's shoulder as she composes her letter, we witness not only the continuation of the film's story through the words she writes, but also a documentary account of Karina's physical movements as she performs an activity whose very ordinariness blurs the line between acting and simply being. Behind her, a huge photomural of the Champs-Elysees underscores the photographic nature of the scene, at once emphasizing its realism (like the photo, this movie is a lifelike account of Paris in 1962) and complicating our attempt to read it literally (this is not reality but a construction, with its own agendas and priorities).
Raoul walks up and speaks with Nana, placing her into more of the categories (ladies and tramps, profitable and unprofitable hookers, etc.) that organize life for him. "The classic letter," he says of the page she has written, relegating her carefully composed words to the lowly status of tried-and-true cliche. She asks his opinion of her, and he says she is "very good," with "great goodness in [her] eyes." She expresses surprise at this "Catholic" answer to what she thought was a simple question, but her feelings of security and authenticity have grown so shaky that she encourages Raoul's judgmental views and the social pigeonholes to which these assign her. She asks what "category of women" he places her in, and he announces that there are "three types of girl," depending on the number of "expressions" they have.
Godard films this conversation in accord with the movie's generally Brechtian tone. The camera starts with left-to-right movements from a position behind Raoul, whose head sometimes hides Nana from view. Then it changes to a position at the end of their table, shifting from one side to the other until Raoul asks Nana to smile. The camera views both of them as Nana protests and maintains her thoughtful expression; then it swings excitedly toward her as she breaks into a sudden grin. Her happiness is short-lived, as she quickly resumes her pensive look and gazes at Raoul with apprehension. They leave the cafe in a jaunty mood, though, playfully exchanging a puff of cigarette smoke during an affectionate kiss. Nana asks when their new business arrangement will begin, and Godard cuts from the photomural's daytime Paris to a shot of the city at night, enticing and forbidding in its suggestion of unknown possibilities.
Eighth tableau: AFTERNOONS, MONEY, WASHBASINS, PLEASURE, HOTELS. This tableau's title names pleasure as nothing special - just one in a series of everyday nouns, and near the end of the list at that. The tableau itself consists largely of a faux documentary on the subject of prostitution in Paris, showing places, objects, and gestures used in the trade. Bodies also appear, filmed in bits and pieces to reflect (among other things) the dehumanizing effects of impersonal sex. The busy montage is accompanied by an "informative" commentary, but rather than invoke the "objectivity" of traditional "voice of God" narration, Godard structures the voice-over as a series of answers to Nana's curious questions. One might call this a catechism for the capitalist age, especially since Nana's recent religious allusion (responding to the "Catholic" remark) is still fresh in memory.
Ninth tableau: A YOUNG MAN. LUIGI. NANA WONDERS WHETHER SHE'S HAPPY. Just as the eighth tableau consisted largely of information that most narrative films would exclude for being too dry, this one is full of Brechtian digressions that nudge us out of the story, allowing room for thought and portraying some of the uneventful "dead time" that occupies real life far more than it occupies conventional movies. We wait with Nana at a bar while Raoul confers with a friend. We wait some more while a young man fetches her a pack of cigarettes. We follow her as she dances to jazz on a jukebox, hovering near her body, and sometimes look through her eyes at the men who stare at her.
The scene's most outlandish digression takes place when Luigi, a minor character, does a comic impersonation of a child inflating and exploding a balloon; while this is an apt metaphor for Nana's ultimately tragic naivete, it is presented as a sort of vaudeville routine that deliberately postpones the story's development and again foregrounds its artificial, performative nature. Spectators may well find this frustrating, and of course that is the point. Godard's satisfaction with such devices is demonstrated by his repeated use of them - a poem delays an execution in Les Carabiniers, a lengthy joke interrupts a dramatic scene in Alphaville, a comedian's routine delays the climax of Pierrot le fou, and so on. Even the jazz that prompts Nana's dance is riddled with brief pauses (momentary rests built into the music, much as printed intertitles are built into this movie) that reinforce the film's interruptive strategy. Beneath its artfully composed shots and carefully recorded sounds, My Life to Live is built on a foundation of absence: the absence of tones during the silences in the jazz piece, the absence of words during the Joan of Arc sequence, the absence of images during each tableau's introductory title, and finally the absence of Nana, toward which the entire tragedy is wending its way.
Tenth tableau: THE STREETS, A BLOKE, HAPPINESS IS NO FUN. Nana is hooking on the street, more settled into her profession than before. Smoking, surveying the scene, and waiting for trade, she stands before a wall covered with ragged posters; a fragmented phrase directly over her shoulder reads "le zo," evoking the Greek root meaning "life." We may see this as an accident of the shot's composition, but since Godard often fills his frames with carefully selected words and syllables, we may also see it as a reference to the movie's title, and a sign that one particular "life to live" has now enveloped Nana, excluding other possibilities that may once have been available to her. Depending on our interpretation of her story, we may feel she has selected this life with her own individualistic will ("We're always responsible for our actions. We're free") or that it was subtly imposed on her by an alienated, materialistic society. Supporting the second hypothesis over the first, the fragment "zo" also suggests "zoo," a place where animals are confined for the enjoyment of other, more privileged creatures. We may also note another poster alongside Nana, promoting Hollywood star Paul Newman in his popular movie The Hustler (L'Arnaqueur), a sardonic allusion to the tenacity of hustlers and hustling in her daily round.
In any case, we observe Nana in her "cage" as she socializes with other prostitutes, and we visit a typical session with a client, watching her smoothly negotiate the price and make the rounds of nearby rooms when he asks for an additional woman. (The sound track momentarily drops away as he makes his request, weaving another subliminal silence into the texture of the film.) Arbitrarily ignored by the client, who evidently prefers the new member of his menage, she again sits in silhouette before a window as Legrand's mournful music swells. This may be considered a Brechtian interlude, undermining melodrama by pushing its conventions (sad music, romantic pose) to the breaking point; but it might also be seen as patently, even desperately heartfelt, using cliches of the Hollywood "woman's picture" to sympathize with Nana over how easily her contentment can vanish into puffs of lonely cigarette smoke. Either way, Godard is honoring two Hollywood giants here: Alfred Hitchcock, whose masterful profile shots in Vertigo and Psycho could have inspired Nana's pose, and Douglas Sirk, whose use of glass to separate isolated individuals from the plenitude of nature (as in the 1955 All That Heaven Allows) prefigures her place before a window revealing an inviting but unreachable world.
Eleventh tableau: PLACE DE CHATELET. A STRANGER, NANA THE UNWITTING PHILOSOPHER. Rapid tracking shots capture people walking down city sidewalks. Music and ambient sounds come and go. Nana enters a booth in a cafe, sees a man reading and smoking in an adjoining space, and asks if he'll buy her a drink. "Why are you reading?" she asks after a little small talk. "It's my job," the philosopher matter-of-factly answers. Nana admits that she suddenly doesn't know what to say - a recurring situation in her life - and we remember the first tableau, when she repeated a phrase many times instead of developing a thought at length. This prompted Paul's "parrot talk" insult and her own conclusion that "the more we talk, the less words mean."
As a man of words, the philosopher - played by Brice Parain, a respected scholar - would probably not agree with Nana's earlier statement about talking; but she is interested in another side of the question now, and she raises it with him. "I know what I want to say," she observes. "I think about whether it's what I mean ... but when the moment comes to speak, I can't say it." The philosopher responds with a rambling account of Porthos's death in Alexandre Dumas's novel Twenty Years After. Here the dullest-witted of the Three Musketeers lights the fuse on an explosive, starts to flee, but suddenly begins wondering how it is possible for the human body to coordinate the activities used in moving; paralyzed by the paradox of unconscious action translated into conscious thought, he stands transfixed and becomes the victim of his own bomb. "The first time he thought, it killed him!" the philosopher summarizes.
"Why did you tell me that story?" asks Nana with real anger. "No reason," he replies, "just to talk." This begins a lengthy conversation about the nature and purpose of language, in which certain observations and exchanges clearly reflect Godard's current preoccupations. One is Nana's repetition of her point that "the more we talk, the less words mean," coupled with a wish that people could live in silence. The philosopher says this is desirable but unattainable, for two reasons: "We must think, and for thought we need words.... To communicate one must talk - that is our life."
He goes on to elaborate his notion that speech and silence are two different states of being, with the former a result (or even a rebirth) of the latter. "We swing between the two because it's the movement of life," he says. "From everyday life, one rises to a life we call superior: the thinking life. But this life presupposes one has killed the everyday, too-elementary life." Thinking and talking are basically the same - "one cannot distinguish the thought from the words that express it" - and both inhabit a separate plane from ordinary existence in the world of things.
This does not mean, of course, that thought or language is isolated from falsehood and error. "Lies too are part of our quest. Errors and lies are very similar," says the philosopher; and Nana adds a bit later that "there is truth in everything, even in error." Godard certainly likes this idea, which he used to justify the "touching" confusions of The Little Soldier. Still, persistent effort and existential responsibility are needed to locate truth-through-error and benefit from it. "One must speak in a way that is right, that doesn't hurt," the philosopher goes on, adding (as Nana stares directly into the camera, signaling Godard's fascination as well as her own) that it is best if one "says what has to be said, does what has to be done without hurting or bruising." Again one hears a plea for goodfaith integrity - one of the few human qualities that can help us through the raging absurdities of our existential condition.
The conversation keeps rambling along, very much on the philosopher's terms - a sentence like "Leibnitz introduced the contingent" probably means little to Nana - but spurred and sustained by his companion every step of the way. "What do you think about love?" she finally asks, as music hauntingly returns to the sound track. "The body had to come into it," the philosopher replies, and when he veers off into a series of references that Nana can only find obscure, she steers him back to her wavelength by asking, "Shouldn't love be the only truth?" No, he responds, arguing that love cannot be dependably "truth" since it is not dependably "true" but rather a matter of "bits and pieces" and "arbitrary choices"; still, with maturity one can hope to be "at one" with a lover (the words "at one" imply equality, not possession or control) in a way not possible when one is young. "That means searching. This is the truth of life," he concludes. "That's why love is a solution, on condition that it is true."
It is well that the scene ends here, since the philosopher appears to be growing more pretentious and self-involved as he goes along, and Nana lacks the verbal facility to debate him effectively, much less debunk his more dubious notions. What she desires from this conversation is less the philosopher's wisdom, however, than the opportunity to journey through her own thoughts by speaking the words that embody them. She wants to test their truth by hearing their sound, and by watching them register on one of the rare acquaintances who (unlike Raoul and her clients) will listen to her seriously.
What the scene offers to Godard is different but no less valuable: another chance to blur the boundaries between reality and artifice, joining fictional and nonfictional "characters" in a setting at once invented (Nana's narrative) and discovered (Karina's discourse with Parain). "We must pass through error to arrive at the truth," says the philosopher, and it would be hard to convey the rationale behind theatre-verite more concisely.
Twelfth tableau: THE YOUNG MAN AGAIN, "THE OVAL PORTRAIT." RAOUL TRADES NANA. Sitting in an apartment, the young man who fetched Nana's cigarettes in the ninth tableau holds a volume of Edgar Allan Poe's complete works, the book covering the lower half of his face. Nana is before the window. He lowers the book to converse with her - but instead of hearing their words, we read the conversation in subtitles as Legrand's ever-mournful refrain fills the sound track. They discuss trifles, revealing the comfortable nature of their relationship. Then we hear a voice as the man, apparently Nana's boyfriend now, reads from Poe; at first the screen is darkened, and as the image fades in, we again see only the upper portion of his face over the book he holds. "I thus saw in vivid light a picture all unnoticed before," he reads. "It was the portrait of a young girl just ripening into womanhood. I glanced at the painting hurriedly and then closed my eyes."
The extraordinary thing about this moment in My Life to Live is that we are hearing Godard himself - not the young actor on the screen, whose mouth is invisible behind the book - speak Poe's words by reciting the passage into a microphone outside the camera's range. "The portrait, I have already said, was that of a young girl," he continues. His words are accompanied by Karina's immaculately framed image, as if the movie were taking its cue directly from Poe's words.
"It was a mere head and shoulders, done in what is technically termed a vignette manner," he goes on, as Nana poses in silhouette before the window. "The arms, the bosom, and even the ends of the radiant hair melted imperceptibly into the vague but deep shadow of the background. As a thing of art, nothing could be more admirable than the painting itself." Nana now gazes toward the camera in close-up, with only a plain white wall behind her. "But it could have been neither the execution of the work nor the immortal beauty of the countenance which so vehemently moved me. Least of all could it have been that my fancy had mistaken the head for that of a living person. At length, satisfied with the true secret of its effect, I fell back within the bed. I had found the spell of the picture in a lifelikeness of expression." Nana is now in profile, sharing the frame with a small portrait reproduction tacked to the wall (not unlike Patricia's decorations in her Breathless apartment).
"Is that book yours?" asks Nana, and the man - still speaking in Godard's off-screen voice - repies that he just found it in the room. Then, in an act of ventriloquism that is startling even by Godard's audacious standard, the filmmaker speaks directly to his actress-wife through the young man's persona, as if the latter had no other reason for appearing in the scene. "It's our story," he says to Nana/Karina, "a painter portraying his love! Shall I go on?"
She answers affirmatively and he continues, Poe's words now transformed by their new meaning in the film-and-life that Godard and Karina share. "And in sooth, some who beheld the portrait spoke of its resemblance as of a mighty marvel, and a proof not less of the power of the painter than of his deep love for her whom he depicted so surpassingly well." Becoming increasingly obsessed with his work, Poe's narrative goes on, the painter "turned his eyes from the canvas rarely, even to regard his wife. And he would not see that the tints which he spread upon the canvas were drawn from the cheeks of her who sat beside him." When the painting was complete "save one brush upon the mouth and one tint upon the eye, the spirit of the body again flickered up as the flame of the lamp. And then the brush was given and then the tint was placed, and for one moment the painter stood entranced before the work he had wrought. And in the next while he gazed he grew tremulous and aghast, and cried with a loud voice, 'This is indeed life itself!' and turned suddenly to regard his beloved. She was dead." Nana slowly fades to black as melancholy music swells once more.
Film critic Angela Dalle Vacche has detected a strain of "iconophobia" in Godard's work, suggesting that his obsession with images and their power results from fear and dread as well as devotion and respect. His lengthy quoting of "The Oval Portrait" supports this diagnosis, as does the silent, subtitled conversation that now resumes between Nana and the young man. A request, "I'd like to go to the Louvre," is answered with, "No, I don't like looking at pictures." An aphorism, "Art and beauty are life," is answered with a change of subject.
Turning from the arts to a more immediate concern, Nana agrees to break off with Raoul and move in with her young boyfriend. The next scene then fades in on an outdoor location as Raoul roughly pushes her across the pavement, criticizing her for not accepting "anyone who pays" as a client. "Sometimes it's degrading," she protests, still clinging to her elusive dignity. They drive off, and we see some of the places they pass from the window of Raoul's car. One is a movie theater showing Truffaut's romantic Jules and Jim, which prompts someone in the car to complain that there's always a queue when you want see a film. Another is the cast-iron sign of a business called Hell & Sons (Enfer et ses fils). As before in Godard's work, no scene is too serious for a joke to disrupt its mood and delay its outcome.
The film's last joke is the ironically named Restaurant des Studios, in front of which the story ends. After a long, static shot of the street corner, the camera pans with Raoul's car as it swings into view. Coutard then positions the camera some distance from the curb to allow for smooth lateral movements, filmingt he action in a single shot marked by the flattened out, sideways space that Godard has started to favor in his cinematography.
With horror, we realize that Raoul has arranged to sell Nana to another pimp. He pulls her from his car and pushes her in the other man's direction, receiving a packet of cash in return; but the money is short, and he pulls Nana back, refusing to be cheated on the deal. Deciding to destroy the merchandise if he can't drive away with it, the prospective buyer aims his gun at Nana, whose terror is conveyed with poignant force by Karina's barely controlled voice ("No! No!") and harrowingly expressive gestures. His gun fails to fire, and with a tough-guy casualness that borders on caricature ("You shoot. I forgot to load mine") he orders his lackey to finish the job. The thug's bullet smashes into Nana, and a subsequent gunshot - this one from Raoul - ends the little life she still has left to live.
Raoul drives off, leaving Nana's corpse alone within the frame. Godard's camera makes a final abrupt gesture, moving sharply downward so the cold, empty street fills the lower portion of the screen. Nana's lifeless body is thus elevated to the upper portion - a faint, materialist echo of the heavenward journey that Joan of Arc might have expected from the God she faithfully served.
Nana shared Joan's tears at an earlier point in this story, but Godard's final portrait of her is less redemptive (not to mention inspirational) than the opposite camera movement - upward to a finer, loftier realm - that ended Dreyer's film. Nana has passed through error, but the philosopher's words notwithstanding, it is far from clear that she has arrived at truth.
My Life to Live (Vivre sa vie). 1962. D, S - Jean-Luc Godard; P - Pierre Braunberger; Ph - Raoul Coutard; E - Agnes Guillemot, Lila Lakshmanan; So - Guy Villette, Jacques Maumont; M - Michel Legrand; C - Anna Karina, Sady Rebbot, Andre-S. Labarthe, Peter Kassovitz, Laszlo Szabo. Les Films de la Plei'ade. 35mm. 85 min.
David Sterritt/The Films of Jean-Luc Godard/ Seeing the Invisible/ My Life to Live
PUBLISHED BY THE PRESS SYNDICATE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
© Cambridge University Press 1999