There is so much about the people around us that we do not know. You could be sitting in a cafe, watching a woman dance with abandon to the song on the jukebox. She moves with spirit and life, dancing both with anyone who is nearby and nobody at all. This woman is smartly dressed and confident in demeanour. Odds are she has her shit together right? Maybe not. Maybe she is just savouring one particular moment from her life, not at all consumed with the moment before or the moment to come.
What has past and what will happen might be brutal, but as outsiders we may never know. The only person who truly understands a life is the person living it.
VIVRE SA VIE is about Nana (Anna Karina). She is introduced to us slowly – in shadow, or in profile. We gather that her life is in a state of flux and that she is trying to trade on her looks somehow (modelling or acting by what we eavesdrop in her conversations). While she has a job as a clerk in a record shop, she’s barely making ends meet. Before long, she finds herself a Parisian call girl – still convinced she’s only doing it temporarily, but continually reaping the rewards it offers.
How long before this Nana becomes “The True Nana”…and who exactly is “The True Nana”?
It’s almost startling to see a film so obsessed with “the truth”. At times, it’s willing to have long conversations to get to the marrow of the matter. Hell, there’s an extended sequence where we watch our heroine take-in Dreyer’s JEANNE D’ARC. As the character on-screen is berated by her inquisitors, trying to get “the truth” from her about her relationship with God, our character in the audience is in tears. Is it because she is afraid of what she has inside of her to confess? Or because she doesn’t actually know what the truth is anymore?
Later, when she meets a cafe philosopher, she actually submits to a long discussion about “the truth”. He puts it to her that a lie is not just contained to saying we will do something and then failing to do it. In actuality, a lie is not fully examining our own lives with detachment. He goes on to say that the truth can only find us when we submit ourselves to error. Only then will we understand who we are, and only then can we be honest.
Sounds brutal, doesn’t it? Welcome to the introspection this film unloads.
That’s the hardest part about coming way from this film. It’s not that we have to watch a promising girl fall, or see her succumb to some questionable life-choices. What’s hardest about this film is the high bar it asks us to clear in the name of being honest with ourselves, and how hyper-aware it leaves us of our every tick and flaw.
This film doesn’t just look back at its audience, it adjudicates its audiences every tick and flaw.
VIVRE SA VIE is a film obsessed with asking the question once posed by George Harrison: “what is life?” Is it made up of highlights…labels…details and activities? Are we what we do, where we go, who we associate with? Or are we, perhaps, how we sip our coffee…how we button our sweater…how we walk down the street?
Goddard seems to believe that these subtleties from moment to moment inform our lives just as much as the the deepest moments of truth we may face. It’s why we pay just as much attention to Nana when she is measuring her own height as we do when she is deciding whether or not to become a call girl. Sure, the mundane activities might seem like they don’t say as much about a person – but there’s more of it. If we pay close attention to a person’s mundane activities (or our own), might we be able to tell whether they are a rude person? a meticulous person? a life-affirming person? a curious person? Probably.
We are just as much “ourselves” when we believe nobody is watching as we are when we are the centre of attention. Perhaps even more so. After seeing a film like this, how does one not feel more aware of the way one sits on a train…or scratches an itch…or clears their throat? If we can find ourselves so deeply invested in watching Nana go through her day-to-day, what’s to say that the person seated across the diner from you at breakfast can’t find themselves as invested in you?
We will all ‘Live Our Lives’, as the title suggests…but will we live it differently knowing that someone is watching? Often one finds that they feel very much alone in a busy community, but we forget that we are hardly alone at all.
By the time we arrive at this film’s shocking conclusion – and I do mean shocking conclusion – we are abandoned in the dark to reflect on our own choices and our own lives. More than once, the film has a philosophical discussion about the meaning of life, and every time it seems to come down to the point that we are all responsible for that which we do and do not do. It may come down to choice or necessity, might prompt itself from impulse or careful consideration: at the end of it all, it’s on us. VIVRE SA VIE warns us from the outset to lend ourselves to others, but to give ourselves only to ourselves. Everything after that declaration is a beautiful series of warning signs that need to be watched carefully. Some warnings are subtle, such as a lowered voice when a john asks his prostitute for a particular service. Other warnings are quite direct, like when Nana looks direct to camera in the middle of the philosopher’s conversation.
Each want desperately to warn us off the same thing; from trying to shirk responsibility of our own lives. We should not be tempted in the quiet of a question and can not in the clamour of an accusation. To be seduced into a sweet vie en rose is to open ourselves up to disappointment and abuse, and nobody should face such hardships if the have a say in the matter.
This world is a tough enough place when we cling tightly to control; there’s no point in making it a tougher place by giving up any semblance of control whatsoever.
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for March so far…
Rebecca watched THE WAGES OF FEAR
Beatrice watched MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL
Keisha watched THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Coog watched HAROLD AND MAUDE
Wendell watched SOPHIE’S CHOICE
Jordan watched ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
Anna watched AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
Erin watched AU HASARD BALTHAZAR
Donald watched AMERICAN HISTORY X
Jenna and Allie watched TERMINATOR 2
Katie watched THE LIVES OF OTHERS
Joshua watched MACBETH
Jay watched THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD
Chris watched THE KILLER
Andy watched GILDA
Brittani watched THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC
Melissa watched THE RULES OF THE GAME
Sean watched DRACULA
Kristina watched STRAY DOG and THE BAD SLEEP WELL
Steven watched THE NEWS FROM HOME