Vivre Sa Vie Review

A descent into desperate depravity, captured in twelve episodes in the life of a young woman. Cannon fodder for drama enthusiasts, but with smug pretensions injected into it thanks, in part, to director Jean-Luc Godard. His aesthetics and reasoning behind making many of the decisions he does are incomparable to anything that would make sense, but bless him, for he tries and succeeds in making moving, motivating features rich with thematic turns and engaging characters. But we are quick to judge those that have proven themselves inconsiderate of the field they are working in, and while the beauty of Godard is found in the shots he crafted and the stories he told, there are the essential emotions and tirades of passion completely lacking. But that is of little issue for Vivre Sa Vie.

Primarily coasting off of the value Anna Karina and Godard’ names have, Vivre Sa Vie does well to make so much come from its episodic structure. We are treated to a noticeable degradation of quality in this character. Nana Kleinfrankenheim (Karina) has that steady, inevitable spiral. Its structure and technical opportunities are frank and exceptional. One take and in chronological order is all Godard needs here, and impressive that may be, we must often question the impact these artistic flourishes have on the semblance of quality for the narrative. They do not make much damage, nor do they give Godard much headway to really engage with Karina’s mastery of the screen.

It is their life to live, as the title would vaguely suggest. Maybe so, but are they leading it correctly? Is there even a correct way to lead life? There is, but those supporting characters know better than to tell Kleinfrankenheim what to do. Her headstrong attitude is amiable, interesting, and eventually presents her with the downfall she hadn’t expected. We cannot knock her for trying. She is making her way in the world the only way she knows how. Godard’s direction here is magnificent, yet understated. We open on the back of the protagonists’ head, and never really move from there in the initial episode. Her looks and appearance do not matter. The words she offers, and the bleakness that surrounds her are far more engaging than anything Karina could offer with a visual layer to her performance.

Even then, Godard would often experiment. This is just another one of them. Vivre Sa Vie is not without issue, for its dialogue is occasionally brief and stuttering, but the bulk of it is thoroughly interesting. His blocking and camera choices make for delicate situations, ones that are guided more by where the camera is positioned and what we can draw from the interactions of characters than of the writing and performances. Godard implicates the characters far better than he explains them. What we can draw from the performances, particularly that of Karina’s, is the emotion and the benevolence these people display. They are not always successful, but the creativity and sparks of innovation that fly across the screen make Vivre Sa Vie an exciting, engaging watch.

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