Vivre Sa Vie (10/6/12)

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Vivre Sa Vie is the tragic tale of a young woman whose aspirations to become an actress turn her to a life of prostitution.

Nana (Anna Karina) is a stunning Parisian in her early twenties. She decides that she is going to leave her husband to become a famous actress. We follow Nana through twelve chapters of her life as her dreams of acting slowly shift into making money as a prostitute.

Vivre Sa Vie (which translates to “My Life to Live”) is one of only two Jean-Luc Godard films I believe I’ve seen, the first being Breathless. As a fan of French New Wave, Breathless was pretty much required viewing, but I was not very taken with it as a film outside of its obvious importance in cinematic history. Vivre Sa Vie struck an entirely different chord with me and has made me want to delve further into Godard’s library.

The use of twelve chapters in Vivre Sa Vie have a distinct feeling and make it easy to experience Nana’s descent with small sections of her life on display. Some of the chapters are simple, like the fourth, which is basically just Nana in a police station explaining an incident with a woman who accused Nana of stealing money from her. Each successive division of the film shows Nana sliding further into the life as a prostitute and we hope dearly for her to make it out of this life. The chapters almost make Vivre Sa Vie feel like a novel in that we are somewhat removed from the action as its happening but we also are fully involved in Nana’s life. She is not a heroine, but she is a tragic figure.

While Vivre Sa Vie is probably not the first film I would point to for seekers of French New Wave cinema, I found it immensely powerful and enjoyable to watch. Godard has redeemed himself in my limited view of his talents and I look forward to seeing more of his work now. Vivre Sa Vie is a film that tells a sad tale in a heart-wrenching way and it’s a film I would easily recommend for people wanting to expand their viewing into French cinema.

I give it 5 fans of Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction take note out of 5.

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The 400 Blows (7/14/12)

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The 400 Blows is a semi-autobiographic look at François Truffaut’s difficult childhood.

Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a 12 year living in Paris with his mother and step-father. He does not do well in school and suffers at home. Both his parents and teacher think he is uncaring and Antoine constantly runs away. After unsuccessfully stealing a typewriter from his father’s workplace, Antoine is forced into jail, imprisoned with prostitutes and other hardened criminals. Antoine is then shipped off to a school for troubled youth, where he gives some insight to his life before deciding to flee once more.

I normally don’t give the full plot details of a film but in the case of The 400 Blows, I do not consider any of the above to be a spoiler. The plot points are not what defines the film so much as how the characters behave. Antoine’s question and answer session near the end of the film is heartbreaking and beautiful and easily one of the best scenes in film history.

A landmark film of the French New Wave, Truffaut’s film was widely successful from the start but over 50 years later, the film is still just as touching now. The cinematography is also such a wonder to behold, as the shots pan and track so precisely yet appear almost casual. The 400 Blows is an absolutely breathtaking film. The actors, particularly young Léaud, whom was used in several other Truffaut films reprising his role, are all remarkable.

To truly do The 400 Blows justice, I would need to devote a heavily detailed breakdown of individual shots and scenes. An easier method would be watching the film yourself, I truly believe it’s a must-see. If French New Wave films have turned you off before, or if you are new the genre, The 400 Blows is the perfect place to start.

I give it 5 reading Balzacs out of 5.

PS – In case you were wondering, apparently the French title, Les quatre cents coups, refers to the expression “faire les quatre cents coups” roughly translated to mean “to raise hell”.

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