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Fox Lorber presents

My Life to Live (Vivre sa vie) (1962)

"The more we talk, the less the words mean."- Nana (Anna Karina)

Stars: Anna Karina, Sady Rebbot
Director: Jean-Luc Godard

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:23m:24s
Release Date: 2003-06-10
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+C-C+ D


DVD Review

What an astonishing time the early 1960s were for Jean-Luc Godard. Vivre sa vie comes two short years after the director's Breathless reinvigorated not just the French cinema, but that of the world, and you can feel in it Godard's ambition, talent and daring on display. It's a slightly disjointed movie, but that's by design—each scene and each frame is crammed with the restless energy of the golden age of the nouvelle vague.

My Life to Live is a story told in twelve scenes (its subtitle: Film en douze tableaux), about the career choices of Nana (Anna Karina): almost because she's bored, more than anything else, she becomes a prostitute. This is no shocking exposé about the world's oldest profession, though; it's much more of a meditation on the nature of our interpersonal relationships, and a self-conscious reflection on filmmaking. Godard's pedigree as a critic is very much in evidence—Nana takes refuge going to see The Passion of Joan of Arc, for instance, and in one critical scene we see huge billboards advertising Jules et Jim. Godard gives his actors room to breathe and plenty of freedom, and their naturalism is arresting, especially given that everything was shot on location.

The real hero of the film, though, may be Raoul Coutard, the director of photography. The blacks and whites are beautiful and nuanced, and there are all kinds of effects designed to provoke our attention. In one scene, for example, we're shown only the backs of the characters' heads, and are straining for visual information just as they are; in another, gunshots ring out, and the camera goes into a rat-a-tat-tat stop motion sequence, mimicking the gunfire. You sense that Coutard and Godard have the same feeling that Orson Welles did on Citizen Kane, that they were given the greatest train set for Christmas that any little boy ever received.

It's a movie that's content to spend a few minutes hovering over the fountain pen of the main character as she writes a letter—in other hands, this might be excruciating, but here it's done with such style and joie de vivre that it's surprisingly riveting. If you don't care for this sort of thing, you might find it solipsistic, and Godard has incorporated that bit of criticism into his film, almost to inoculate it from the charge of egotism—at one point, the main character is asked: "Don't you ever talk about anything but yourself?"

But if you've read this far, you're probably not one to dismiss Godard out of hand as hopelessly self-involved, and you'll be amply rewarded by this film. It's a terrific view of the streets of Paris, and while prostitution is a principal plot point, this isn't Godard's version of the hooker with the heart of gold, our even his Nights of Cabiria. It is rather riveting stuff, demonstrating tremendous technical command combined with an empathy for his characters, and it runs a brisk eighty-three minutes. It's a smart, ambitious and accomplished motion picture.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Unfortunately the video presentation is the weakest element on this disc, and much of the nuance and detail in Coutard's cinematography is lost in this transfer. The print is pocked with scratches and debris, and there are resolution problems—in one scene Karina wears a skirt with a tartan print, and it shines gaudily. Bacteria seem to have ravaged the print pretty badly; this film is definitely a candidate for an extensive restoration.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio quality is at least adequate, with some hissing and excessive room tone interfering from time to time.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+ 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. list of awards won by Godard
  2. film credits
Extras Review: Incomplete filmographies provided for Godard and Karina; the film's credits are displayed on a separate panel; and another is devoted to awards won by the director. But the print on all of these is so small that you're unlikely to glean much knowledge from them.

Extras Grade: D

Final Comments

The video quality is far from optimal, but this is a crucial work from Godard's early and most fertile period, and more than merits a look.

Jon Danziger 2003-07-13