Sunday, 6 September 2015

Blu-ray Review: Vivre Sa Vie (BFI)

The life of record store assistant Nana Klein (Anna Karina) is hardly a model for beautiful, bright young things to aspire to. Nana wears a sullen expression for her working hours, going through the motions of taking money and giving change with the grey mist of discontent shrouding her every move.
Outside, things are even worse with estranged husband Paul (Andre Labarthe) a source of mental exhaustion: "The more we talk, the less the words mean" really sums up their relationship.
Nana is looking for something more in her life. Something that will bring stability, enabling her to break free from her shackles.
Raoul (Saddy Rebbot) offers lucrative employment in the world's oldest profession; a job which accelerates her income and also her hastens her downwards spiral.
We see a succession of men: some handsome and confident, others plain and reserved. We hear exactly what is expected of a prostitute, including the numbers of clients she can expect each day and the sums she can earn. It's an almost unbearably sad world, and even the bright, eye sparkling moments in this film are tinged with unhappiness.
The scene where Nana measures herself with her hands for a job application form and a playful jukebox dance (which anticipates the famous sequence in Bande a Part) are part of an existence which kicks against one of the world's most romantic cities.

This is a winning performance from Karina who conjures up conflicting moods exceptionally well, her every look, her every gesture commanding our attention. She's a beauty behind bars who can never break free: even a visit to the cinema - an escape for most of us - reminds her of her own sad life. Witness the clip from Carl Dreyer's "The Passion Of Joan Of Arc" which leaves Nana in tears: a scene I was reminded of years later when I watched the reaction of Naomi Watts and Laura Harring to Rebekah Del Rio's heartbreaking rendition of "Llorando" in "Mulholland Drive".
"Vivre Sa Vie" is a beautifully structured piece, of its time and yet also of our own time. Some things never change.
To quote Edith Wharton, "next to death, life is the saddest thing there is." That certainly holds true for one of Jean Luc-Godard's finest films.

The BFI blu-ray presentation offers excellent image quality, with an abundance of exquisite detail.
It's worth noting that the British theatrical version incorporates title cards and intertitles taken from an original 35mm duplicating print of the British theatrical version held by the BFI National Archive. The picture for both versions has been restored, removing dirt, scratches and warps, with damaged frames and stability issues repaired.
The supplementary features begin with a commentary track from the excellent Adrian Martin, who explains Godard's 4th feature is different to its predecessors with regard to a more controlled, structured opening. Adrian also notes how Godard films conversations here; talks about the theme of being caged and of another world that lies outside the windows of Nana's prison, and that even exterior scenes have a claustrophobic feel. He also highlights the finale as being a homage to Rossellini, with a nod to Antonioni, and has a lot to say about Anna Karina.
It's a commentary rich in sharp observation, and required listening for us all.

Anna Karina In Conversation With Alistair Whyte is a 36m 15s interview, recorded in 1973.
Alistair asks Anna about her directorial debut "Vivre Ensemble" and why she decided to direct. He also asks about her reaction to wtaching herself on film, and she talks about working with Godard, Cukor and Visconti.

"Charlotte et Veronique" (20m 28s) aka "All The Boys Are Called Patrick".
This 1959 short film is the first of three on this disc. Its screenplay was written by Eric Rohmer and involves two friends, Charlotte (Anne Colette) and Veronique (Nicole Berger) who are both picked up by the suave Patrick (Jean-Claude Brialy). The girls discuss their new admirer and soon work out they've been duped by a serial seducer who arranges to meet them separately while he's already on the way to his next target. It's an enjoyable dash, and fair warning that if something seems to good to be true, then it almost certainly is.

Un Histoire d'eau (A Story Of Water) 1961 12m 14s
Vileneuve-Saint-Georges is flooded each February by an avalanche of snow that melts and engulfs the village.
A girl (Caroline Dim) is stranded by the floods and meets Jean-Claude Brialy during her efforts to reach Paris. The sight of the waterlogged countryside is a constant, but it's their growing relationship that's at the centre of things en route to the capital and a ftiing monument to their newfound love. This engaging short was a collaboration with Francois Truffaut.

Charlotte et son Jules 1958 13m 13s
A homage to Jean Cocteau, this one features Anne Collette and Jean-Paul Belmondo as ex-lovers who meet again when Charlotte returns for a reason that become hilariously clear at the end. Charlotte is on the receiving end of severe lectures from her former lover, barely getting a word in as Belmondo's character goes on and on.
It's a postcard of the poverty of failed relationships, but light-hearted and entirely fascinating to watch the two leads at work. Godard himself recorded Belmondo's dialogue as military service reared its head before Jean-Paul could record his contribution.

The main feature offers an optional introduction by Leslie Hardcastle, recorded before the Vivre Sa Vie screening at London's National Film Theatre in 1968. Godard had been invited to introduce the screening and had accepted, but didn't show up. Leslie explains what happened and his efforts to persuade Godard to attend.
There's also a 2m 20s theatrical trailer (which gives the game away with regard to the downbeat finale) and a 2 page booklet with reviews from Virginie Selavy and John Russell Taylor and an essay by David Thompson.
Highly recommended, and a treasure trove for Godard buffs.

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