I usually try to form my opinion about films based on how entertaining or interesting or enriching or none of these I felt that they were during the time spent watching them. Only afterwards I try to understand why I liked or disliked the film, what caused me to find it funny, what I had learned from it, whether I exited as a better being (or not) at the end of the film. In the case of ‘My Life to Live‘ (the original French title is ‘Vivre sa vie’ – ‘Living her own life’) going back to the roots of the pleasure of watching this movie also means placing it in the context of the cinema at the beginning of the 60s, and the extraordinary revolution brought by a handful of French directors was part of, in the way movies are made and the way spectators watch movies and relate to them.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056663

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056663

 

The story in ‘Vivre sa vie’ is pretty straight-forward and there are no explicit social or political messages as in other films by Godard or his colleagues. Nana () is a young woman trying to build a path for herself in the Big City, failing, and sliding slowly on the slope of prostitution. The film follows her unsuccessful attempts to meet ends, followed by a decision that mixes innocence and reluctance to engage in the oldest profession, while keeping alive her ingenuity and desire to live her life. There is no moral hesitation and no risks assessment in what she does. Godard approaches what can be otherwise described as a descent in hell with an apparent phlegmatic approach, almost as in a documentary or as in what we call nowadays a docu-drama. This is reflected in the places he is filming (more or less chic areas of Paris) and in the selection of his actors – the pimps and the customers of the sex trade look no different than any of the other guys next table in the brasserie.  There is only one violent incident in the story that could have been a warning about the dangers ahead, but it is dully ignored. The desire to live a good life prevails.

 

(video source janusfilms)

 

The choice of the actress may have been quite obvious, as had married the year before the film was made. The role may even have been written for her, but the way he directs the young actress is part of his manner of telling the story. ‘s Nana is beautiful and ingenue, she just makes her choice about the way she wants to live her life without awareness about the price to be paid. Is there a final realization of her mistake? Maybe she gets it in the last second of the film, but it’s mostly to the viewer to draw the conclusions.

There are so many cinematographic innovations in this film made at the beginning of the 60s that any list risks to be partial. Filming some of the dialogs without seeing the faces of the actors, using live and sometimes hand-held camera on the streets of Paris, inserting legal and documentary book texts to illustrate the decision of Nana at the key moment when her destiny takes a turn, using close plans of the actors faces to emphasize their feelings (some times with help from the wonderful music of Michel Legrand) are only part of these. I especially loved two scenes: the film in film screening of ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ which is a fascinating declaration of love for cinema, and the dance scene which predates by more than three decades what  will do in Pulp Fiction. No wonder, as  lists  as one of his idols. One element which may seem today experimental was not such actually – it’s the black-and-white film – that was the period of transition to color, which still was expensive and – luckily – the young French new wave directors and their producers could not afford it.

The final of the 12 chapters of the film includes a glimpse on the streets of Paris where people stand in line at the cinema house to see ‘s Jules and Jim. A reverence to his colleague of generation who broke through a few years before, and whose fame was soon to equal.