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An Account of Criminality and Prostitution in the Film Vivre Sa Vie (1962)

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Prostitution, arguably one of the oldest professions in human history, has flourished in every form of society since time immemorial regardless of its legality. Particularly in France, prostitution has had a long and extended socioeconomic influence and is recognised by Nicolas Sarkozy (former French president) as being part of France’s national cultural heritage (Gangoli, G. & Westmarland, N. 006). In Jean-Luc Godard’s fourth feature film, Vivre Sa Vie (1962), an account of the impact prostitution and its affiliation with criminality in the daily lives of ordinary Parisians is brought to light in the style of a theatrical documentary, using various Brechtian alienation devices to provoke understanding and critical analysis from audience members concerning its underlying message.

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Just as the chapters one is prone to find in a fictional novel just so Vivre Sa Vie (1962) is filmed in the form of twelve tableaux, done to further distantiate the audience on regular intervals, discouraging any preoccupation with the psyche of the unfortunate heroine Nana.

In addition to its novelistic detail in form, the name ‘Nana’ carries the legacy of the naturalist film done in 1926 by Jean Renoir (one of Godard’s greatest influences).

The striking similarities between the scripting of the two films are perspicuously displayed in the heroines’ shared ambitions to succeed in the entertainment industry, their promiscuity and the tragic end to which they found themselves. Nana, in addition to being Godard’s homage to Renoir, is also an anagram of ‘Anna’ Karina ( the then wife of Godard). It is therefore implied that it is not the identity of Nana being examined on the pedestal of this moving picture alone but Karina as seen through the eyes of Godard which begs the question of whether the work of an auteur can be indeed seen as an autobiography of its creator.

Earlier releases of the film in predominantly English speaking countries such as North America and the United Kingdom translates the title of the film into “My Life To Live” and “It’s My Life” respectively. Even with the slight differentiation in the construction of the title which naturally accompanies its translation, the fundamental existentialist notions remain. The core proposition of existentialism, and perhaps its most distinctive feature, states that “existence precedes essence” (Sartre, J. -P. ). The accumulation of a person’s life choices therefore efine their very essence of being, and that person is then held accountable for actions performed, emotions experienced and of course the very words they speak. As so simply put by Nana: “I think we’re always responsible for our actions, we’re free. I raise my hands, I’m responsible. I turn my head to the right, I’m responsible. I am unhappy, I’m responsible. I smoke a cigarette, I am responsible. I close my eyes, I’m responsible. I forget that I am responsible, but I am. ” (Vivre Sa Vie 1962, Tableau the Sixth, “Meeting Yvette; A Cafe In The Suburbs; Raoul; Gunshots In The Streets”)

Although it seems Nana has accepted her fate as a direct result of her own personal choices in life there lies within that simple logic noticeable complications unaccounted for. The circumstances which lead Nana astray, how and why she became a prostitute. Susan Sontag (1964) in “Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie” states that: “An art concerned with social, topical issues can never simply show that something is. It must indicate how. It must show why. But the whole point of Vivre Sa Vie is that it does not explain anything.

It rejects causality… Godard in VIVRE SA VIE [does not] give us any explanation, of an ordinary recognisable sort, as to what led the principal character, Nana, ever to become a prostitute… All Godard shows us is that she did become a prostitute. Again, Godard does not show us why, at the end of the film, Nana’s pimp Raoul “sells” her, or what has happened between them, or what lies behind the final gun battle in the street in which Nana is killed. He only shows us that she is sold, that she does die. He does not analyse. He proves. “

Throughout the film Nana is portrayed as a naive young woman seeking to realise her dreams and desires, desires shaped by an almost obsessive interest in popular culture. It seems that it is exactly what Sontag describes as Godard’s “proof” that then provides the audience members with the necessary components to fill in the blanks. Most evidently displayed in the third tableau (“The Concierge; Paul; The Passion of Joan of Arc; A Journalist”), undeterred by the prospects of now being without house and home she proceeds to view a showing of “Le Passion de Jeanne d’Arc”.

Nana, or rather Anna Karina’s interpretation of the character Nana, shows a particularly strong emotional response to Joan of Arc as if to incite the audience to compare her own unpleasant conditions to that of the suffering of Joan whose own death seem to ominously foreshadow Nana’s ultimate fate. It is the auteur’s very portrayal of the heroine which induces the viewers to analyse the plot in an attempt to deduce the missing cause so as to understand the causality, for critique is the prerequisite for the formulation of an alternative perspective.

From her choice of work in a record shop, to her frequent visits to cinemas, to her eventual descent into the world of prostitution, a distinct comparison is drawn between Nana and the traditional notion of womanhood as well as drawing attention to the difference between that of a self motivated action and one which is limited and influenced by circumstance. This victimisation of Nana by her externally motivated actions symbolises the plight of the individual under a capitalist society.

To further highlight his concern with the tight grasp a consumerist culture has on an increasingly materialistic Paris, Godard also makes good use of different properties within the mise-en-scene viz. the foreign cars, the juke boxes, the pinball machines and even Nana’s bobbed haircut which all seem to convey the message of the individual’s loss of a sense of self when under the merciless power of a monopoly. It is in the fifth tableau (The Boulevards; The First Man; The Room) where Nana first comes into contact with the act of solicitation.

Her meeting with Yvette, who gives a detailed recount of her own journey into prostitution, seems only to serve to further desensitise Nana from what she is about to adopt as her sole source of income. Yvette is then the only character in the film who has, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the exact reasons and circumstances which lead to her becoming a prostitute. Throughout the film, Godard does not pause to elaborate on the stories of Nana’s other “colleagues”. It would seem that in an attempt to portray the ealities of being a prostitute, Godard gives the audience room to interpret the many ways in which a woman would be lead into a life of prostitution, Criminality it appears is not only something engaged in by the delinquent members of society but also by the members sworn to protect and uphold the laws which govern. Shown in the sixth tableau (Meeting Yvette; A Cafe In The Suburbs; Raoul; Gunshots In The Streets), a shooting in the streets occurs which is later revealed to be an incitement of political cause.

A man whose eyes is blinded by the blood of a wound stumbles into the cafe in agony and Nana is seen swiftly fleeing the scene. Blinded by the veil of superficial freedom Nana commences her new metier as a prostitute with Raoul as her pimp. The inherently uncritical attitudes and presuppositions towards sexual stereotypes of women adopted by the broader society (Smart, C. 1978) serves to reaffirm the collective attitude towards women as the inferior gender even within the sordid world of crime and delinquency.

Adhering to this biased way of thinking, the domination of women is demonstrated as Nana slowly passes through the hotel where each of her colleagues appear as if they were statues deprived of freedom under the domineering gaze of the men whom they serve. The black and white film maintains a relationship with the reference to marble statues that is the recurring theme in Godard’s representation of women (Tableau The Tenth-The Streets; A Bloke; Happiness Is No Fun).

Once again a victim to circumstance, apart from the inferior identity she adopts in becoming a prostitute, Nana also assumes the role of an over-sexed female when she is turned down by a client. She expresses emotions bordering on that of disappointment and hurt, a state described by Cecil Bishop (1931) as being one in which prostitution is chosen deliberately as an occupation as a method to satisfy the craving for sex rather than as the result of economic and social conditions: She finds that prostitution affords an easy if comparatively small income, and that it satisfies a sex craving which grows in proportion to the extent that it is indulged. ” In 1962, towards what seemed to be the emerging end of the French New Wave the world could not have foreseen the cinematic revolution that is the fourth Godard film centred around the life of a prostitute. Prostitution is one of Godard’s biggest chosen topics of cinematography since it is to him the model and metaphor of all social relations.

To Godard all forms of labour provided in one way or another for the purpose of monetary gains is a form of prostitution. By observing the condition, suffering and contradictions of these women, Godard tried not only to understand the corruption of the world and society around him but also to impart his understanding of it onto the audience. Bibliography Bishop, C. , (1931). Women and crime. 1st ed. London: Chatto and Windus. Braudy, L. , (1977). Jean Renoir: The World of His Films. 1st ed. London: Robson Books. Craib, I. , (1976). Existentialism and sociology: a study of Jean-Paul Sartre. st ed. London: Cambridge University Press. Gangoli, G. & Westmarland, N. , (2006). International Approaches to Prostitution: Law And Policy In Europe And Asia. 1st ed. Bristol: The Policy Press. Sherritt, D. , (1999). The films of Jean-Luc Godard: seeing the invisible. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Smart, C. , (1978). Women, crime and criminology; a feminist critique. 1st ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Sontag, Susan. “Godard. ” Styles of Radical Will. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969. —-. “Godard’s VIVRE SA VIE. ” Against Interpretation and Other Essays.

Cite this An Account of Criminality and Prostitution in the Film Vivre Sa Vie (1962)

An Account of Criminality and Prostitution in the Film Vivre Sa Vie (1962). (2016, Nov 22). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/an-account-of-criminality-and-prostitution-in-the-film-vivre-sa-vie-1962/

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