Vivre Sa Vie (film)

Vivre Sa Vie (Directed by Jean-Luc Godard)/1962

We live in both exciting and uncertain times: we’ve had a series of upheavals in world politics in recent times and the media is gearing up for the new year by pumping out predictions filled with paranoia and anxiety about 2017. I’ve thought about what wisdom we could garner from our past, in particular, the existentialist movement. What were the great thinkers of those times pondering about? What did they feel were important matters for humanity and individual human beings?

With these thoughts lingering in my mind, I watched Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie on the weekend. Translated as My Life To Live in English, the film came out in 1962 during the era of the French New Wave. The film has 12 chapters (scenes) following the love, work and life of a woman in Paris in the 60s: Nana.

Nana is an adorable character to watch: she’s beautiful, intelligent and curious about the world and those around her. She can at times be petulant and silly but that’s all part of her charm. The harshness of life and poverty start to take its toll on Nana but she doesn’t become resentful. Instead, she ponders on core existentialist values: individual freedom and responsibility. She says:
‘I think we’re always responsible for our actions. We’re free

I raise my hand – I’m responsible

I turn my hand – I’m responsible

I am unhappy – I’m responsible

I smoke – I’m responsible

I shut my eyes – I’m responsible

I forget I’m responsible, but I am

I told you there’s no escape

Everything is good.’

In a later scene, she discusses language and comprehension with a philosopher (who in real life was Jean Luc Godard’s former Philosophy tutor Brice Parain). Feeling tired and worn down, Nana complains about how we must constantly communicate: why can’t we just enjoy silence? However, in response the philosopher reminds Nana of the beauty of communication: how ideas from thousands of years ago, can still be understood.

Vivre Ma Vie is an account of a search for meaning in the midst of challenging events. While life continues to throw expected and unexpected challenges at Nana she continues to ask questions and thinks about how to live. And it is this quality that makes the Nana-character endearing.

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