An Account of Criminality and Prostitution in the Film Vivre Sa Vie (1962)

Topics: Jean-Luc Godard, Vivre sa vie, Anna Karina Pages: 5 (1749 words) Published: November 1, 2012
Prostitution, arguably one of the oldest professions in human history, has flourished in every form of society since time immemorial regardless of its legality. Particularly in France, prostitution has had a long and extended socioeconomic influence and is recognised by Nicolas Sarkozy (former French president) as being part of France's national cultural heritage (Gangoli, G. & Westmarland, N. 2006). In Jean-Luc Godard's fourth feature film, Vivre Sa Vie (1962), an account of the impact prostitution and its affiliation with criminality in the daily lives of ordinary Parisians is brought to light in the style of a theatrical documentary, using various Brechtian alienation devices to provoke understanding and critical analysis from audience members concerning its underlying message. Just as the chapters one is prone to find in a fictional novel just so Vivre Sa Vie (1962) is filmed in the form of twelve tableaux, done to further distantiate the audience on regular intervals, discouraging any preoccupation with the psyche of the unfortunate heroine Nana. In addition to its novelistic detail in form, the name 'Nana' carries the legacy of the naturalist film done in 1926 by Jean Renoir (one of Godard's greatest influences). The striking similarities between the scripting of the two films are perspicuously displayed in the heroines' shared ambitions to succeed in the entertainment industry, their promiscuity and the tragic end to which they found themselves. Nana, in addition to being Godard's homage to Renoir, is also an anagram of 'Anna' Karina ( the then wife of Godard). It is therefore implied that it is not the identity of Nana being examined on the pedestal of this moving picture alone but Karina as seen through the eyes of Godard which begs the question of whether the work of an auteur can be indeed seen as an autobiography of its creator.

Earlier releases of the film in predominantly English speaking countries such as North America and the United Kingdom translates the title of the film into "My Life To Live" and "It's My Life" respectively. Even with the slight differentiation in the construction of the title which naturally accompanies its translation, the fundamental existentialist notions remain. The core proposition of existentialism, and perhaps its most distinctive feature, states that "existence precedes essence" (Sartre, J.-P.). The accumulation of a person's life choices therefore define their very essence of being, and that person is then held accountable for actions performed, emotions experienced and of course the very words they speak. As so simply put by Nana:

"I think we're always responsible for our actions, we're free. I raise my hands, I'm responsible. I turn my head to the right, I'm responsible. I am unhappy, I'm responsible. I smoke a cigarette, I am responsible. I close my eyes, I'm responsible. I forget that I am responsible, but I am."

(Vivre Sa Vie 1962, Tableau the Sixth, "Meeting Yvette; A Cafe In The Suburbs; Raoul; Gunshots In The Streets")

Although it seems Nana has accepted her fate as a direct result of her own personal choices in life there lies within that simple logic noticeable complications unaccounted for. The circumstances which lead Nana astray, how and why she became a prostitute. Susan Sontag (1964) in "Godard's Vivre Sa Vie" states that:

"An art concerned with social, topical issues can never simply show that something is. It must indicate how. It must show why. But the whole point of Vivre Sa Vie is that it does not explain anything. It rejects causality… Godard in VIVRE SA VIE [does not] give us any explanation, of an ordinary recognisable sort, as to what led the principal character, Nana, ever to become a prostitute… All Godard shows us is that she did become a prostitute. Again, Godard does not show us why, at the end of the film, Nana’s pimp Raoul “sells” her, or what has happened between them, or what lies behind the final gun battle in the...

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Craib, I., (1976). Existentialism and sociology: a study of Jean-Paul Sartre. 1st ed. London: Cambridge University Press.
Gangoli, G. & Westmarland, N., (2006). International Approaches to Prostitution: Law And Policy In Europe And Asia. 1st ed. Bristol: The Policy Press.
Sherritt, D., (1999). The films of Jean-Luc Godard: seeing the invisible. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Sontag, Susan. “Godard.” Styles of Radical Will. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969.
—-.“Godard’s VIVRE SA VIE.” Against Interpretation and Other Essays. Reprinted. ed. New York: Anchor Books, 1990. 196-208.
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