Vivre sa vie – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #512 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
August 4, 2010 by Dennis Amith
Godard’s tragic masterpiece shows us an innovative Godard and showcasing Coutard’s beautiful cinematography and a wonderful performance by Anna Karina. Another Godard film on Blu-ray which is fantastic. Highly recommended!
© Les Films du Jeud/1962-Les Films de la Pleiade-Paris. 2010 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Vivre Sa Vie – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #512
YEAR OF FILM: 1962
DURATION: 83 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), Black and White, Monaural in French with English Subtitles
COMPANY: Janus Films/Les Films Du Jeudi/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: April 20, 2010
Based on the Book “Ou en est la prostitution” by Marcel Sacotte
Written and Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Produced by Pierre Braunberger
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography by Raoul Coutard
Edited by Jean-Luc Godard, Agnes Guillemot
Costume Design by Christiane Fageol
Anna Karina as Nana Kleinfrankenheim
Sady Rebbot as Raoul
Andre S. Labarthe as Paul
Guylaine Schlumberger as Yvette
Gerard Hoffman as Le Chef
Monique Messine as Elisabeth
Paul Pavel as Journaliste
Dimitri Dineff as Dimitri
Peter Kassovitz as Le jeune homme
Eric Schlumberger as Luigie
Henri Attal as Arthur
Jean-Luc Godard as the voix de l’amant lisant Poe
Vivre sa vie was a turning point for Jean-Luc Godard and remains one of his most dynamic films, combining brilliant visual design with a tragic character study. The lovely Anna Karina, Godard’s greatest muse, plays Nana, a young Parisian who aspires to be an actress but instead ends up a prostitute, her downward spiral depicted in a series of discrete tableaux of daydreams and dances. Featuring some of Karina and Godard’s most iconic moments—from her movie theater vigil with The Passion of Joan of Arc to her seductive pool-hall strut—Vivre sa vie is a landmark of the French New Wave that still surprises at every turn.
It was 1962 and Jean-Luc Godard and wife, Anna Karina have worked on two films together “Le petit Soldat” (created in 1960 but released in 1963 due to the film being banned) and the 1961 film “Une femme est une femme” (A Woman is a Woman). By that time, both Godard and Karina’s marriage life became a public spectacle especially rumors that their marriage was on the rocks.
Despite their rocky personal life, Godard’s goal was to make Karina a serious actress and in 1962, he began working on his screen adaptation of “Vivre sa vie” (My Life to Love) which utilizes the studies of prostitution from “Où en est la prostitution” by Marcel Sacotte. But Godard would have his most challenging directorial experience at the time when funding for the film was turned down and the budget for the film was 400,000 francs, less that “Breathless” and it would be the first film in which Godard would be co-producer (putting half of his money towards the film) alongside producer Pierre Braunberger.
“Vivre sa vie” would create the film in 13 sequences, Godard called it “tableaux vivants” (live paintings) which was inspired by the 1931 film “The Threepenny Opera” (directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst) and the film was shown at the Venice Film Festival in which the film received boos from the audience (because it was unlike his other films) and even received some critical pans by a few critics but the film would go on to receive the Critics’ Prize and the Special Jury Prize and those same critics that panned the film earlier, some would go back and watch it again and at this point, many proclaimed the film as Godard’s masterpiece, even receiving praise from director/friend (at the time) Francois Truffaut and would be the first film for Godard to end the year in Cahiers du Cinema best ten list for that year.
“Vivre sa vie” is a film that focuses on Nana Kleinfrankenheim (played by Anna Karina), a young woman who left her child and husband to go off and become an actress. Unfortunately, life as an actress is not going so well as Nana is low on money, constantly borrowing money, late on her rent and having to request an advance from her job at a record store.
But after being arrested for taking money from a woman who dropped it, the problem Anna faces is a life without a home and no money. So, she turns to prostitution. We see how she’s uncomfortable about being a prostitute but she knows she has no other choice.
Wanting to make more money, a pimp named Raoul offers her a way out of her current job and way to become a prostitute but in better areas of the city and have more clientele. We then see how Nana has changed from an amateur to a professional. But she does receive a stern warning from her pimp, “do not refuse a customer”.
But what will happen to Nana when she meets a man she cares about and wants a change in her life?
“Vivre sa vie” is presented in 1:33:1 aspect ratio and in black and white. For many years, many people had only a VHS and import DVD to watch “Vivre sa vie”. And now people have the chance to watch Godard’s tragic masterpiece in HD. Detail is much more evident in the backgrounds, you can see the surfaces of the signs and the walls, detail on the stains of the walls to the detail in Karina’s clothing. Blacks are nice and deep, grays and whites and the overall contrast levels look fantastic. There is a good amount of grain tot he film and for the most part, this is the most detailed version of “Vivre Sa Vie” available on any physical media at this time.
According to the Criterion Collection, the picture has been slightly windowboxed to ensure that the maximum image is visible on all monitors. The new HD digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from teh original 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Vivre Sa Vie” is presented in Monaural French with English subtitles. Audio is presented in LPCM 1.0 and according to the Criterion Collection, the soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the optical prints. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated audio workstation.
It’s important to note that for this film, Godard went for an experimental use of sound. That is the soundtrack (dialogue and noise) was recorded directly on a single track. No sound editing, natural sounds and everything that one would hear in a regular conversation with another person is what you would hear in this film. The only addition was the music to the live soundtrack during the post-production phase of the film.
Dialogue (as well as crowd ambiance) is clear and understandable and the bass line for the main theme song (especially during the dance sequences) sound very good in HD.
“Vivre sa vie – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #512” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – The audio commentary is by film scholar Adrian Martin and was recorded in 2001. What I enjoyed about this commentary is Martin’s knowledge of the film but also his enthusiasm about Godard’s oeuvre and how the scene was shot. Very detailed and informative audio commentary and definitely worth listening to!
- Jean Narboni on Vivre sa vie – (45:15) A 2004 interview with French scholar Jean Narboni by film historian Noel Simsolo who breaks down various scenes from the film and it’s script.
- Cinepanorama: Anna Karina – (11:05) An interview with Anna Karina from the French TV program “Cinepanorama” from April 1962 before the release of “Vivre sa vie”.
- Faire Face: “La Prostitution” – (21:48) Featuring excerpts from “La Prostitution”, an episode of the French TV series “Faire face” which aired back in Feb. 1961. Featuring interviews with prostitutes, Max Fernet, Paris’s director of police and Marcel Sacotte, author of “Ou en est: La Prostitution” which was the inspiration of “Vivre sa vie”.
- Ou en est: La Prostitution – Featuring text information on how Godard utilized Sacotte’s studies on prostitution for the film and photos of pages from the Sacotte’s “Ou en est: La Prostitution”.
- Stills Gallery – Using your remote, you can view various stills from the film.
- Godard’s Trailer – (2:22) The theatrical trailer for “Vivre sa vie”.
- 42-Page Booklet– Featuring the scenario “Vivre Sa Vie Scenario” by Jean-Luc Godard, the essay “The Lost Girl” by Michael Atkinson and an interview with Godard on “Vivre sa vie” for Sight & Sound Magazine (Winter 1962-1963), an interview with Jean-Luc Godard from Cahiers du Cinema from Dec. 1962, an essay on the film’s soundtrack in “An Audacious Experiment: The Soundtrack of Vivre Sa Vie” by Jean Collet.
For any Godardite, let alone the Anna Karina fans not enjoy “Vivre sa vie”. I felt that the journey Godard has taken the viewers for the character Nana and her descent into prostitution was well done, there is no sugar coating the whole lifestyle of these women. As Karina may be a woman who tries to maintain her soul despite being a prostitute, the only ending that I can foresee for this character was a tragic ending. This was evident to me right when I saw the “Joan of Arc” film and Nana’s face as she tearfully wept as Joan is to be put to death.
No sugar coating, no happy ending, no “Pretty Woman” type of ending, it is what it is.
“Vivre sa vie” was a film that was a unique experience, especially having watched many of Godard’s films and also having read about the personal turmoil that was going on behind-the-scenes with his marriage to his muse Anna Karina.
I look at “Vivre sa vie” as Godard trying to maintain his composure as a director and the audience, trying to make amends with his wife, Francois Truffaut, explain differences between “Vivre sa vie” and why “A Woman is a Woman” did not work but we also saw at the same time, the film alienating some Godardites and even upsetting his former friend/director Jean-Pierre Melville.
But as “Breathless” is seen as the flame that sparked the French New Wave and intellectual films, “Vivre sa vie” influenced cinema with lengthy dialogue which would become used by fellow directors and many young directors who were influenced by the film. From the opening sequence of Nana and her husband, the camera shot is from behind, Godard wanted no distractions by showing the character’s faces from the front but by the back. The use of the tableux sequences and as mentioned, the dialogue sequences. Where Rohmer made things much more intellectual in “My Night at Maud’s”, I can easily see why people criticized “Vivre sa vie” at first because of the dialogue was not as intellectual as they hoped for it to be.
Interesting to note, an interview is included in the book insert of how Godard wanted many people to understand his film (something that he would eventually get away from a few years later) and although Godard does read a passage from Edgar Allen Poe’s book at the end of the film, the book that had any significance was “Ou en est la prostitution” by Marcel Sacotte. The tricks of the trade in which Nana and her new pimp Raoul begin discussing and a way for Nana to make even more money.
But as the film does feature lengthy dialogue, not all were impressed, including one of Godard’s earliest supporters Jean-Pierre Melville who was very critical towards him. In fact, it was one of the major reasons that Godard and director Melville ended their friendship as according to Melville’s wife Florence who recalled her husband telling Godard “You are making a lazy man’s cinema, this is no longer deserves the name of cinema, you put down the camera and you have people talk, nothing more. For me, this isn’t cinema”. (p. 141, “Everything is Cinema”, Richard Brody) and in response Godard said, “There can no longer be a friendship between us, if one doesn’t like one’s friend’s film, no one can longer be his friend.”
But Godard received a good review from another earlier supporter, director Francois Truffaut who wrote “There are films one can admire and yet that do not invite you to follow…why pursue it? These are not the best films. The best films open doors, they support our impression that cinema begins and begins again with them. ‘Vivre sa vie’ is one of those.” (p. 319, “The Films In My Life”, Francois Truffaut)
So, the film received its boos but many people came around to declare the film as a Godard masterpiece. But one thing I have always wondered was if there was an alternate ending to this classic Godard film. If Godard had actually thought about another type of ending and the more I researched, I’ve read that Godard and Karina had a lengthy argument on how the film was supposed to end. Karina opposed the ending of the film and according to several books, because of the ending Godard chose, which went against his wife’s wishes, it was the beginning of the breakup of their marriage (and another unfortunate incident involving Karina).
So, I’ve always found “Vivre sa vie” to be a unique Godard experience. From Coutard’s cinematography, Godard’s use of the tableaux, Antonioni-like sequenes and the recording of the sound and ambiance from the actual filming and as much as I call this a Godard masterpiece, I’ve felt that Anna Karina was absolutely dashing in this film. A role that gave the actress the depth she needed to showcase her emotional side and also her flirtatious side, needless to say, this is a film where Karina shined.
The Blu-ray release of “Vivre sa vie” is done quite well. Not only do you get an informative commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin but the interview with film scholar Jean Narboni is also well-done and informative. The other features are like icing on the cake, especially the hilarious interview with Anna Karina who is surprised by the questions asked by the interviewer and the 42-page booklet is a major plus.
Overall, “Vivre sa vie” is a release that many Godard fans have been waiting for (now all we need is “Week End”) and the fact that The Criterion Collection also chose this film for Blu-ray release is fantastic. Although “Vivre sa vie” is not my favorite Godard film (which still goes to “Pierrot le fou”), “Vivre sa vie” is still a Godard masterpiece that is worth having in your cinema collection.
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