My Life to Live (Discussion)

Kevin, Penny, Grace and I saw this last week. We struggled to discuss the film, so I decided to see it again, and take notes. I’m posting the notes in hopes that it will spur on a discussion of this film.

Vivre sa Vie
My Life to Live
Dir. Jean-Luc Godard
1962

Opening credits
• Silhouettes of Nana’s face/head; sometimes she’ll look directly into the camera; Legrand score on and then off
• “Lend yourself to others and give yourself to yourself” Montaigne

Chap 1: A café. Nana wants to leave Paul. The pin table.
• Nana and Paul are sitting at a counter with their backs turned to the camera. Sometimes we see Nana’s face in a mirror, but it is not clear.
• Nana and Paul are husband and wife; they mention a child?
• The scene ends with Nana and Paul at the pinball machine. Paul talks about an essay he read from one of his father’s students. The essay is about animals—outside and inside; when you take away the inside you get the soul.

Chap 2: The record shop. 2,000 francs. Nana lives her life.
• Exterior shot of the streets; sound off
• Interior: man asking for various musicians as music plays in the background
• Nana asks about someone who owes her 2,000 francs and asks someone to borrow the money.
• In the conversation with this person, a book is brought up and the person says she likes the way the author writes and begins to read an exercept:

“He gazed at the turquoise, star laden sky, then turned to me. ‘As one who lives intensely, logically you…’ I interrupted him.
‘You attach too much importance to logic.’
For a few seconds I was filled with a bitter sense of triumph. Forgotten, my broken heart. Forgotten, too, my need to put on a brave face. Yes, a distinctly elegant way of escaping this dilemma. (slow dissolve)
• As the girl reads these lines the camera pans to the right and we see the street through the store windows, eventually people walk by. Nana and the girl are out of the frame.

Chap 3: The concierge. Paul. The Passion of Joan of Arc. A journalist.
• Light coming through otherwise dark doorway to apartment courtyard. Nana darts in and out.
• In this scene, Nana seems to be trying to get her key to her apartment. Apparently, she needed the 2,000 francs for her rent. The concierge and her husband stop her from getting into her apartment.
• In the next scene, Nana meets Paul on a street. They seem to be looking at pictures of their children. Nana says she’s going to a movie.
• The title “Jeanne D’Arc” appears on the side off a building. Nana goes into the theater, and we see an excerpt from the film, which is a silent film. In the scene, a man is asking Joan about her faith. He says, “What is the victory.” And Joan says, “Matyrdom.” Man: “What is the release?” Joan: “Death.” Her face is tear stained; Nana’s face is tear stained, too.
• I saw this scene as foreshadowing; Godard does the circular thing when his characters do what they see, etc.
• Nana enters a coffee shop and meets a man (journalist) at the counter. In this scene the camera has an interesting swaying movement back-and-forth between Nana and the journalist. The camera doesn’t simply swivel from left to right, and vice-versa, but it also moves in a circular motion while turning from side to side, creating a swinging or rocking sensation. I’m not sure what the significance is, but it’s something that draws attention to itself. It’s as if Godard wants people to be aware that this is a film and no other medium.
• Nana asks the journalist for 2,000 francs; he doesn’t have it and invites her to his place. She follows him.

Chap 4: The Police. Nana is questioned.
• Silhouetted, head shot of Nana from the front as she’s being questioned.
• Based the dialogue, Nana has taken money that dropped from a woman’s purse and the woman pressed charges. Nana is upset
• The police asks her if she has family or anyone she can stay with and what’s she’s going to do. She answers, “I don’t know…I…is someone else.”

Chap 5: The boulevards. The first man. The room.
• Camera moves along a street scene; score on and then off and no sound at all; Nana walking on the street waiting for a John. (Seems like there is titles from movie on the wall.
• Nana and man enter a motel; we see a sliver of a mirror where we can see the man’s reflection as they get a room.
• In the room, Nana shows her inexperience, uncertainty when negotiating the “transaction.” The scenes ends with her struggling and avoiding kissing the man on the lips. (I believe it’s a slow fade.) There is a least one shot of the man putting his hands in his pocket the recalls Bresson.

Chap 6: Meeting Yvette. A café in the suburbs. Raoul. Gunshots in the street.
• We see the back of a head;
• Yvette and Nana have a conversation about Yvette’s story about becoming a prostitute; she left him and later saw him in an American film.
• Y: (referring to her life) It’s depressing and it’s not my fault. N says that we’re always responsible for our lives because we’re free. If I raise my hand/turn my head/am unhappy/smile/shut my eyes—I am responsible. I forget I am responsible, but I am. I told you there’s no escape….Everything is good. You only have to take an interest in things. After all things are what they are. A message is a message. A plate is a plate. Men are men. And life is life.
• Y goes to Raoul.
• Rock music with shufftle rhythm starts from the jukebox. The camera cuts to a young couple sitting in a booth staring at each other; they look like they are in love. Here are the lyrics in English (originally sung in French):

She’s no film star this baby of mine.
She works on the factory assembly line
We live in one room by the railway track.
With a lovely view of the warehouse out back.
No Riviera for us on our holidays (camera cuts to head of N—moves close than back slowly)
No family with a fond daddy who plays
But the light that shines in my baby’s eyes (camera cuts to man at the jukebox; he turns to the camera and then sits down)
Is more to me than the stars in the sky
And when the rest of the town starts to close
The late evening sun in our window glows (cut to N head—moves close than back slowly)
We whisper in the secrecy of our own four walls
And make love together as the darkness falls

(music stops; cut to Y and Raoul at the pinball machine)
• Raoul talks about insulting N to find out if she’s a tramp or lady (if laughs then she’s a lady). N laughs when R insults her.
• Cut to what looks like a list of prostitutes in Raoul’s notebook
• Machine gun fire is heard as we see N get up from a booth; the camera jerks to the rhythm of the gunfire; a man runs into the store bleeding and says, “My eyes.”
• We see N run out from the shop; scene ends with an abrupt cut

Chap 7 The letter. Raoul again. The Champ Elysees
• Letter writing (recalls Bresson); silences except for background noise; we see each letter, and then word appear; something only film can do; Nana responding to taking a respectable job.
• Raoul’s puts his hand on the letter (signifying that he’s preventing Nana from taking the respectable path.
• Camera behind R’s head, N sitting in front of R; camera moves to the left-back to the middle behind R’s head, then to the right, then back to the middle and then to the left again. N talks about how she wanted to be an actress two years ago; she starred in a movie with Eddie Constantine (not sure who that is) illustrating difficulties of being an artist and how an artist must prostitute one’s self to survive.
• Complete silence breaks in for a few moments as they stand; R kisses N and exhales smoke in N’s mouth; N exhales the smoke when they stop kissing.
• Champ Elysee: R: “City lights go endless as streetwalkers’ beat begins” (or something to that effect. We see the city lights.

Chap 8: Afternoons. Money. Sinks. Pleasure. Hotels.
• Montage while voice-over explaining the details of being a prostitute; close up of hands (Bresson)

Chap 9: A young man. Luigi. Nana wonders whether she is happy.
• Explanation of days off for a prostitute (takes prostitute out to the movies or country to see her children); N and R supposed to go to the movies, but they go to a pool hall first to talk to a man (Luigi?)
• Young man playing pool as R and L talk at a table. N looks at young man and smiles; he ignores her; N asks about getting cigarettes, and R says downstairs
• Luigi comically imitates a boy blowing up a balloon.
• Young man brings up a box of cigarettes for N (What’s that all about?)
• N goes over to the jukebox and starts playing music (instrumental rock shuffle) N dances as camera follows her; camera takes her perspective (corner and the R and L sitting at the table); cut back to N dancing—she looks like she’s enjoying herself, goes over to young man; camera slowly cuts young man out of the frame; N hugs a pool and looks sort of questioning.

Chap 10: The Streets. A guy. Happiness is no fun.
• N smoking on the street
• Room; camera still with a skinny mirror; N negotiating a transaction with a man; she is confident, comfortable and more assertive; once again she mentions how she was in film with Eddie Constantine; N tries to get him to stay the whole day; when he responds, sound goes off.
• N asks if he wants another prostitute; he says yes, and she goes out to find another; opens doors we see naked prostitutes and some going out; N brings one back; she asks if she should undress and she begins undressing; he says no and she asks what she should do; music score comes on awkwardly.

Chap 11: Place du Chatelet. A Stranger. Nana the unwitting philosopher.
• Music continues; suddenly off; no sound at all; street scene.
• We see mirror first of a corner booth; N sits, lights a cigarette and says something to someone off camera.
• N sitting next to a man (philosopher); starts conversation. Camera cuts between the two characters in the scene or we see a two shot. This is done in a conventional way (I tried to write the conversation verbatim, but I’m not entirely sure I got it):
o N: Suddenly I don’t know what to say; I think but I can’t say
o Man: (tells a story from the 3 Muskateers: Porthos has to blow up a cellar; he plants the bomb and as he is leaving he wonders how one foot goes in front of the other.” The cellar blows up, Porthos has to hold up the roof for two days and then he dies)
o N: Why must one talk? Often one shouldn’t talk, but live in silence. The more one talks, the less one means.
o Man: I found one cannot live without talking
o N: I’d like to live without talking. It would be nice like loving one another more.
o They talk about expressing one’s self; how words betray us and how we betray words
o Man: talks about how Plato can reach us even though his words were written a long time ago. “We should be able to express ourselves and we must.”
o N: Why must we understand each other?
o Man: We must think. And for that we need words, to communicate we must talk.
o N: I think life should be easy.
o Man one learns to talk well when one has renounced life for a while. That’s the price.
o N: To speak is fatal.
o Man: Speaking is almost a resurrection in relation to life. Speech is another life from when one does not speak. So to live in speech is to die to life without speech. Ascetic rules from speaking well until one detaches from life, with detachment we balance(?) that’s why we pass from silence to words. We swing between the two because it’s the movement of life. From everyday life one moves to a life we call superior. The thinking life. But this life presupposes we’ve killed the everyday life, too elementary life. (Thinking=talking)
o N: So one must talk and risk lying.
o Man: lying is part of the quest. Errors and lies are similar. Not ordinary lies like I promise to show up but I don’t. But subtle lies are different form error. One searches but can’t find the right word. That’s why you don’t know what to say. You were afraid of not finding the right word.
o N: How can one be sure of finding the right word?
o M: It takes effort. One must speak in a way that is right, doesn’t hurt; says what has to be said; does what has to be done without hurting or bruising. (N looks directly into the camera; bows her head then looks intently again)
o N: One must trust(?) to be in good faith. (There is truth in everything, even error.)
o Man: That’s true. (He talks about how France didn’t see this in the 17th Cent. And says we must pass from error to truth. Impossible to live in truth.)
o N: What do you think about love?
o Man: The body has to come into it. Leibniz introduced contingent truth; Contingent truth and necessary truths make up life; one thinks with servitude and errors to life; one must engage with that.
o N: Shouldn’t love be the only truth?
o Man: For that love would always have to be true. Do you anyone who knows at once what he loves? No, when you’re 20 you don’t know. All you know are bits and pieces. You make arbitrary choices. Your “love” is an impure affair. But to be completely at one with what you love, you need maturity. That means searching. This is the truth of life. That’s why love is a solution on condition it is true.

Chap 12: The Young Man Again. The Oval Portrait. Raoul trades Nana
• Music score on; talking between (young man and Nana)
• Man reads from Complete works of Edgar Allen Poe: “The Oval Portrait.” The book is covering his mouth while he reads
• Cut to N in shadows; headshot; (voice) reading about head portraits (film copies what man is reading—man looking at picture of young woman)
• Young man: It’s our story: a painter portrays his love
• The story is about a painter obsessed with painting his lover (wife?) and in the process kills her. He looks at the portrait and says, “This indeed is life” and she is dead. (Slow fade)
• Dialogue between young man and N in subtitles only; no sound; music score on; The young man suggest going to the Louvre. She doesn’t like looking at picture. YM says, “Why art and beauty are life.” (just like the painter) They express their love to one another and N says she’ll leave R. Couple in the dark hugging
• In a car, we hear voice over dialogue. R explains that he is trading N because she doesn’t accept every paying customer; N says it’s degrading; R says that’s where you’re wrong.
• Cut to line waiting for movie. Voiceover: Weekdays too busy for cinema; lien are too long (we see titles Jules et Jim and later a gate with “Enfer et ses Fils”—Hades and Sons)
• Music score on; car parks (music score off); The man “buying” N shortchanges R; the man shoots N and R later shoots her, too. The word FIN appears.

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