Jean-Luc Godard’s fourth film Vivre Sa Vie (1962) may ultimately—or inevitably—recall his debut film Breathless (1960) by veering off into a crime drama, but it’s generally a very different sort of work, one that illustrates the filmmaker’s efforts to expand the language of film, to shape it into something new. It’s also a film that wants the viewer to be wholly conscious of the presence of the camera, to realize that you are watching a movie. Of course, it may be said that Godard had been doing that from the beginning by shooting and editing Breathless in a style that drew attention to itself. But here—in this story of a woman’s (Godard’s then-wife Anna Karina) descent into prostitution—the ante has been upped, not only by the presence of a camera that seems to be taking in its surroundings for their own sake, but by breaking the film up into 12 tableaux or chapters, each introduced by a title. The effect is distancing, yes, but against the odds, the cumulative impact is anything but. Perhaps that was the real experiment all along.
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