Anna Karina is charmingly seductive (and seductively charming) as a shopgirl-turned-prostitute in Jean-Luc Godard’s My Life to Live, a 12-step guide to the eternal search for Truth. It’s truly exhilarating to see Godard dismantle the styles and conventions of Hollywood narrative cinema, then re-build them into a leaner, meaner, more intellectually engrossing contraption. Here, Godard structures what would otherwise have been a Hollywood melodrama about a “hooker with a heart of gold” into 12 “tableaus” or sketches that trace his character’s life. Its manifesto-like tone makes it a good companion piece to Godard’s Masculin-Feminine — another bit of ’60s rabblerousing.
The story follows Nana who, after losing her job as a shop girl, initiates herself into the lucrative but precipitous world of prostitution. She hangs out with a bunch of johns and pimps, and gets good at her trade; later on, she has a lengthy discussion with an elderly philosopher in a café about how thought and speech are both essential components in the search for truth, about how we must pass through error to find truth, how you know if you’re truly happy, and similar stimulating, enduring topics. Nana’s story concludes in vignettes, done via French subtitles, in which a painter’s subject (his beloved) dies once he transfers the essence of his beloved to his painting. What I’ve described above isn’t a plot synopsis or spoiler, but only an interpretation of the assembly of images and ideas Godard puts forth here.
Personal highlight: The lovely Anna Karina’s delightful sashay through a pool hall, set to a rollicking rumba on the jukebox. It’s a lovely moment, and just like Godard to sneak in an interlude of pure fun into this diorama of a girl’s otherwise answerless life.
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard, Marcel Sacotte
Cast: Anna Karina, Sady Rebbot, André S. Labarthe, Guylaine Schlumberger, Brice Parain