Friday, September 28, 2007

Vivre sa Vie

I read somewhere an analogy being made with blocks - that one of the techniques to distance the viewer from the film that Godard has used in Vivre sa Vie is 'cutting' up the film in blocks. Yes, of course, I agree - but should this kind of filmmaking exist? Questioning a great master - it might seem heresy, but should not a great master indulge in beautiful sequences rather than presenting us with sharp trills and sharp basses, flats of the prostitution statistics, and crescendos as when Nana (played by Anna Karina, Godard's then wife) picks up a man from the street.

The film is about a girl who starts with an ambition to become a cinema actress, and ends up becoming a prostitute, a drifter. But, the film's too crisp, too sharply pain-giving. It does not allow you to dwell on a frame, even though the pace of the film is so lethargic; an unbounded flood of ideas, a nerve-wracking pace! Some of it is due to the chopped up effect of the film and the chopped up reality of the story. We do not know for ever why is it that Nana leaves her husband and child, even though her husband is evidently in love with her. We do not even get a good look at the husband's face; he doesn't mean anything in the time span shown of Nana's life shown in the film. How is it that she drifts into prostitution? OK, probably she sold herself to the man who professes to send her pictures to agents, in order to be in a film, but why did she continue the downfall? What was that compulsion that prevented her coming to a poorish, good enough family? And finally, why does Raoul suddenly try to sell her off instead of continually milking her, and why is Nana an unwilling yet silent party to all of this, only screaming when her death in all this shady business is imminent? Yes, you grapple with these questions, and at the same time the film is moving.

Now, mind you, most films move, really move; here, sometimes dialogues flow, and sometimes even they don't. When Nana talks to an old philospher about the meaning of silence and words and the artifice needed to erect a communication between your persona and the society, the breakwater that surrounds you, and love, dialogues flow - the old man's words, probably not all comprehended by Nana, and Nana, probably completely not comprehended by the old man. But, most other times in the film, there's not even the relief of dialogues - it's as if you are on a tight strain, a leash; almost all the frames are filled up with Nana's close-ups, and if not hers then of something else. Yet, Nana is there in almost every frame, she pervades all of it. Her face, the study of her face, if you can say that, that's the film. Interleaved is all kinds of talk, including Poe's poem and a lot of statistics about prostitution in Paris, and guidelines, and a moving tragedy occurs before our eyes for which Godard does not even allow us to cry, in fact does not wish us to cry. The film's too sharply painful.

Interestingly, the film, Nana, reminded me somehow of Maugham's Of Human Bondage, a book that was again painful for me till half-way, for I hated that waitress whom Philip had fallen in love with, and yet I could not tear away myself from why was she like herself, from the reality that who is the greater sacrificer, Philip or that waitress, who inspite of feeling no love or attraction for him, plays up to him only for want of money and something better.

It's a great film, but not necessarily a film that can give you pleasure. But, yes, it will give you fodder for thought - too much of it. A brilliant acting performance from Karina, plus a beautiful Paris, crisp monochrome, deftly handled camera, the usual unconventional shots of Godard (so that instead of getting sucked up into the story, you remain at a distance, at a tight distance, and keep on thinking) - all make the film a masterpiece.

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