My Life to Live is a highly stylized and extraordinarily unformulaic adaptation of a simple premise: a young woman, seeking the freedom and excitement of, what Federico Fellini calls La Dolce Vita, leaves her family to pursue an acting career, only to turn to a life of prostitution. From the opening sequence showing a detached, seemingly clinical exhibition of Anna Karina’s face and profile, followed by an uneasy dialogue between Nana (Karina) and Paul (Andre-S. Labarthe) filmed at an angle showing the backs of their heads, we are introduced to the singular, iconoclastic vision that is Jean-Luc Godard. Stripped of expression and sentimentality, Godard, nevertheless, succeeds in creating a film that is visually stunning and full of pathos. We are drawn to Anna, not because of her seductive persona or compassionate actions, but because she is humanity, lost and desperate, incapable of comprehending her misery nor articulating her pain (Note the parallel character of Antonio Ricci in Vittorio de Sica’s The Bicycle Thief.
Godard’s revolutionary camerawork transcends nouvelle vague novelty: it serves as a cinematic extension of Nana’s soul. The awkward angles and long panning shots during Nana and Paul’s conversations reveals the underlying tension and emotional distance between them. Deeply affected (understandably) by Maria Falconetti’s performance in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, Nana’s conversation proceeds in silent film intertitles – reflecting her own suffering and innate desire to achieve greatness and escape the banality of her sordid life. The seamless camerawork following Nana as she dances uninhibitedly around the billiard room feels intoxicating, almost mesmerizing – a fleeting glimpse of the few brief moments of pure joy she has ever known. My Life to Live is a truly remarkable film: a synthesis of artistic vision and moral tale, suffused with haunting melody, the ballad of a contemporary tragedy.
© Acquarello 1999. All rights reserved.