Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Godard Marathon Day 2: Vivre sa vie (1962); Contempt (1963)

My Godard marathon continued today with a couple of early 60's essentials. Here are some brief thoughts on each:

Vivre sa vie (1962); viewing: Second

Talk about going from one extreme to the other; A Woman Is A Woman was by far the lightest Godard I've seen yet, and likewise Anna Karina spent the movie dolled up, batting her eyelashes playfully and floating on a cloud of charm. With 1962's Vivre sa vie, things got decidedly more somber. The film deals with the tragic tale of Nana (Karina), tracking her course from an independent minded free spirit working at a record store, through her poverty, eventual plunge into prostitution, and ultimately her death. The film is structured within 12 "tableaus", each starting with a kind of chapter heading, telegraphing the action that is to take place on the screen for us. It's an interesting idea, and is further evidence of how Godard's early 60's films pushed the limits of how stories can be told on the screen.

This was originally one of the first Godard's I saw, and I remember really responding to it on that first viewing. Likewise, I enjoyed it quite a bit this time as well. The film really underlines how good of an actress Anna Karina was; de-glamorized and forced to use body language as much as words, we see a much different actress here than in A Woman Is A Woman. Her performance is quite remarkable, and undoubtedly the most famous scene from the film, where she watches Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc on the big screen as her gorgeous eyes burst with tears, is a beautiful, emotional gut punch, and it works so well because of the sheer authenticity Karina brings to the moment. Another fantastic scene towards the end has Nana (unknowingly) waxing philosophic with an old man in a restaurant, and here Karina invokes the perfect mixture of curiosity and perturbed defensiveness. The movie also marks a difference in the way Godard's camera captures all of this; the wild, restless and bouncy movements on display in Breathless give way here to a calmer, more observant and thoughtful approach. The scene where Nana sits in a police station, having been arrested for attempting to rob an old lady, has her framed in almost a silhouette, and as she bows her head down and admits her crime, coming to the realization that she can't even cut it as a criminal, it strikes a poetic chord that I've yet to really see at all in the first two films I've watched in the marathon. I do feel that the "12 tableaux" structure occasionally gives the film a somewhat disjointed quality, possibly keeping the viewer from fully engaging with Nana and her plight, simply for the sake of being novel. But the film works for so many reasons, among them showcasing the versatility of Karina and the rapid maturation of Godard's visuals, that it was an absolute treat to watch again.

Contempt (1963); viewing: fourth

As I alluded to in my initial post on Preparing For A Godard Marathon, Contempt was the only Godard film that I unabashedly loved out of the ten seen by me prior to this marathon. I remember watching it for the first time and being so bowled over that I went back and watched it again the very next night, and then again with the wonderful Robert Stam commentary merely a few nights later. Michel Piccoli and Bridget Bardot are both wonderful as the couple whose marriage rapidly disentegrates as Piccoli's Paul becomes involved in the re-writing of a Hollywood adaptation of The Odyssey, helmed by Fritz Lang (playing himself) and produced by the predatory Jerry Prokosh (Jack Palance).

I really love everything about this film, and feel pretty strongly that it flirts with perfection. I love that, despite the epic feel of the movie, Godard was still able to give it a remarkably personal spin, most notably in the sequence taking place in the couples apartment (my favorite in any Godard film), where Piccoli wears a tie and hat, and Bardot dons a short black wig ala Karina in Vivre sa vie, and as their fight quickly descends into dire, irreversible territory, it's virtually impossible not to see it as a bleak, lifelike recreation of the director's tumultuous marriage. I was aware of the troubled marriage between Karina and Godard, but reading Richard Brody's Everything Is Cinema, which goes into the gritty and uncomfortable details, it really paints the whole thing in a new, almost operatic light. I love how Georges Delerue's sweeping, haunting score swells up constantly throughout, giving even the most insignificant moments a monumental feeling. I love the entire, almost mythic third act, set on the astoundingly gorgeous Villa Malaparte in Italy. And certainly I loved going back and experiencing it all again with this viewing. I don't hesitate in calling Contempt one of my very favorite movies ever. Even if Godard would never go on to make another film on quite this scale, it at least showed that he was capable of branding his own, personal style onto such a rich, extravagant cinematic experience.

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