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Vivre sa vie, 1962
[My Life to Live]

KarinaMy 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.

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Alphaville: Une Etrange Aventure de Lemmy Caution, 1965
[Alphaville: The Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution]

KarinaJean-Luc Godard, the unabashed enfant terrible of French cinema, creates a lighthearted, bizarre and atmospheric utopia in Alphaville. Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), an Outland agent, checks into an Alphaville hotel as Ivan Johnson, a reporter from Figaro-Pravda (the first of many unusual alliances). The hotel manager assigns him a room, a Seductress and a bottle of tranquilizers for the evening. A disembodied voice, the synthetic voice of the ubiquitous Alpha 60 supercomputer, announces room availability and incoming telephone calls, and monitors every inhabitant's behavior. Refusing the services of the ever-obliging Seductress, he briefly struggles with an unknown assailant, but is eventually left alone to study his mission: to locate a missing agent named Henry Dickson (Akim Tamiroff), and the elusive Professor Vonbraun (Howard Vernon), creator of Alpha 60. He arranges a meeting with Natascha Vonbraun (Anna Karina), who knows nothing of her father, and enlists her as his guide through the logically crafted nightmare of Alphaville.

Godard's futuristic vision is presented through an odd synthesis of gangster noir, romantic melodrama, and pop culture, resulting in a subtly humorous, accessible, and highly original film. The levity of the film is tempered by minimal lighting (literally keeping Alphaville residents in the dark), inexpressive actors, and unexpected violence, creating a sense of incongruity and imbalance. Lemmy Caution target practices on a nude centerfold picture, held in place by an unfazed (and heavily tranquilized) Seductress. Henry Dickson, unable to adjust to life in Alphaville, is encouraged by a tenant to commit suicide. Public executions are performed on an Olympic-sized swimming pool, with swimmers performing an aquatic ballet after retrieving the body. Alpha 60 has dehumanized the residents by fostering complacency: supplying mind-numbing drugs, outlawing emotions, and limiting sources of information (words are routinely removed from dictionary "bibles"). Instead of Alpha 60 evolving to emulate the complex behavior of its creator, humans have adapted to the limited capacity of its logical governor. Together, Lemmy and Natascha set out to find the missing men - bringing chaos to the carefully constructed world of Alphaville - and in the process, discover the infinite possibilities of independent thought and human emotion.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle, 1967
[Two or Three Things I Know About Her]

VladyA large blue, white, and red colored block lettered placard initially defines the referential elle of the film title as the Paris region as an off-screen narrator (Jean-Luc Godard) speaking in whispered, barely audible tone provides a contextual reference of the year 1966 through the annotation of Paul Delouvrier's appointment as prefect of the newly created Paris region juxtaposed against the images (and din) of heavy machinery, construction, and urban traffic. A subsequent vignette provides a secondary definition of elle, as the narrator provides an abstractly clinical description of the film's lead actress, Marina Vlady, a photogenic young woman of Russian ancestry who recites the Brechtian methodology to "speak as though quoting the truth" before truncating her pensive reflection in mid sentence and turning away from the camera to the right of the screen, revealing her strikingly luminous profile. A quick, unmatched cut of the actress in medium shot, still overlooking a high-rise building from the balcony of a comparably high-density residential complex, introduces a third elle into the variable equation: the attractive, but intriguingly inscrutable heroine, Juliette Jeanson (M. Vlady), the wife of a financially struggling, yet seemingly content and undermotivated mechanic (and passive intellectual) named Robert (Roger Montsoret) who, as the actress herself had similarly performed earlier, articulates a passing idea through a half finished sentence - this time, in reference to popular (and prolific) detective and mystery author Georges Simenon and his novel, Banana Tourists - before turning to the left of the screen opposite, but equally reflexive gesture that, as the narrator once again comments, is of no importance. The three elles ultimately define the film's discursive plane as the camera follows Juliette in the course of a typical day in the life of the young wife and mother as she performs her domestic tasks, shops, meets friends, and prostitutes herself to make ends meet in the uncertain socioeconomic climate of postwar Paris as the newly created regional administrative goverment rushes headlong towards rapid urbanization.

Two or Three Things I Know About Her is a highly eccentric and audaciously complex, but sincere, passionate, and infinitely fascinating exposition on identity, modernization, international politics, and consumerism. Articulated though the repeated reflection, "a landscape is like a face", Jean-Luc Godard juxtaposes images of large-scale urban construction with character opacity and depersonalized sexuality in order to intrinsically correlate the incalculable human consequence of reckless government policy: an irresponsibility that is not only evident internationally, in the increasingly complex and aggressive U.S. foreign policy stemming from the Cold War (and particularly, its effect on the prolongation of the Vietnam conflict), but also domestically, as the Paris regional government constructs an alienating and culturally neutered modern industrial landscape in the wake of globalization (an economic reality that Godard, rather than characterize as an inevitable consequence of technological progress and innovation, unfairly identifies as another symptom of American aggression). Godard's compositions of impersonal structures and desolate cityscapes - an undoubted influence on the cinema of Chantal Akerman - serve as a visual abstraction of urbanization and cultural flux that inherently reflect Godard's deconstruction of images (or pre-defined filmic cues) in order to convey the syntactical difference between an object's meaning and its significance. It is the filmmaker's personal quest to find the unifying root of this implicit duality that is captured in the recurring image of the attenuating vortex of a cup of black coffee - an allusion to organic genesis in its coincidental resemblance to spiral galactical formation and nuclear mitosis - a desire to return to the origin of the fracture: to reconcile one's abstract, intellectual knowledge with real, tangible, true human understanding.

© Acquarello 2004. All rights reserved.

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