No one could confuse French New Wave films with classic film noir or even neo-noir, not even someone like me (pretty much a dunce when it comes to film scholarship). But back when I began outlining what would become my “Stiletto Gumshoe” projects and was trying to get a handle on late 1950’s/early 1960’s history and culture, I gorged on movies, books, TV shows, magazines and more from that period. Publicity photos and film stills of Anna Karina (many of which were spot-on matches for my mental picture of Sharon Gardner/Sasha Garodnowicz…the “Stiletto Gumshoe” character) led me to her movies, including Jean-Luc Godard’s 1962 Vivre Sa Vie.
Denmark-born actress, novelist, pop singer and film director Hanne Karin Blarke Bayer adopted the stage name Anna Karina at Coco Chanel’s suggestion during her short-lived Paris modeling career, and manages to light up the screen, even in films that can sometimes be a bit dense or dreary for all of their artsy-ness. In Vivre Sa Vie’s twelve episodic chapters, Karina plays young Nana Kleinfrankenheim, a pre-Mod 1960’s reincarnation of Louise Brooks in 1928’s Pandora’s Box right down to the adorable bob haircut. Nana’s husband abandoned her and their children, who she in turn has left with in-laws. Now struggling to navigate a man’s world on a meager shop girl’s pay, she harbors vague notions of becoming an actress, but ends up as a prostitute.
When her pimp sells her to a rival, a disagreement leads to a gun battle on the daytime Paris streets, and the film concludes with Nana shot and left for dead. The movie’s a peculiar mix of early 1960’s pop and consumer culture juxtaposed with glimpses of incredibly grim modern urban life, but you can’t help but be entranced by Nana herself, or completely shocked by her violent death at the end. A noir or even a crime film? No, it’s not. But, for me Vivre Va Sie (AKA My Life To Live and It’s My Life) feels right at home here at this ‘noir culture’ site as much as many other formulaic vintage crime melodramas unfairly lumped in with “Film Noir” just by being in black& white.
Anna Karina sadly left us just this past December.