Hey, this film might’ve made an interesting companion piece to Cléo from 5 to 7! Like that other film, it follows a strict structure that the viewer is informed about right at the start of the film. There are chapter titles that describe what we are just about to watch. Like that other film, this one also feels very cinema verite, at least in parts. Also, the whole film really seems to be about Nana — her beauty, her face, her actions and emotions and her image. This one obviously does operate in filmic time for the most part. But it’s also full of these really long takes, several of which simply involve the camera lingering on Nana’s face where I felt like everything is operating in real time. There’s also an instance where Nana is writing a letter and the camera just lingers on the letter and it feels pretty much like there’s been no time-compression at all.
It also reminded me of the discussion with pixote about La Pointe-Courte where pixote quoted an interview with Varda where she said that Faulkner’s The Wild Palms was her inspiration for the structure and that she was going for Brechtian distanciation with the editing, intentionally pulling the rug out from the audience whenever they might be getting too invested in one narrative or the other.
I felt like this film does that too. We just get to see Nana in all these different situations and I found that I would be drawn into this particular segment of her life and suddenly the next chapter title would appear and we would have to leave this part of the story behind.
Another interesting aspect for me was this idea that at one level, the film feels like it is merely documenting Nana as she goes through a bunch of stuff — her break-up, a job at a record store, her drifting into prostitution and so on and seems to be primarily, like I said before, about Nana’s image (and maybe even Anna Karina’s image? More on that later). But at the same time, there’s also this commentary on the socio-economic factors that seem to lead to prostitution. I also found myself wondering about whether it’s also drawing any parallels between prostitution and film — but I definitely need to watch the film again to be able to better explain what made me think of that.
Regardless of whether that last thesis has any basis in truth, I loved the sequence where Nana is watching La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. That image of Anna Karina’s face in close-up, tears streaming down her face… just so beautiful and tragic. And somehow, looking at her then, I felt like it was inevitable that things would end badly for her.
The film’s rhythm is also rather unusual. Some of the dialogue delivery felt very theatrical to me. I can’t pinpoint specific sequences right now even though I just watched it but remember coming away with that feeling by the time the film was done. At the same time, there were other parts where the dialogues felt very natural. There are these jarring sequences such as the one where Nana tries to steal a key or the one where she picks up a man but there are also these prosaic sequences where we are just listening to statistics about prostitution and the laws that govern prostitution in Paris.
I think this also affected my emotional response to the film. I think that the distanciation thing does work to some extent. Because we keep getting cut away from the story and the fact that the entire story is consequently told in such a choppy fashion, I did find myself unable to really focus on and think about what was happening. Despite that, I found the experience very moving and maybe even a little painful at times. This is particularly surprising because I remember thinking that the film feels somewhat cold and clinical at times… not just during the flat narration of laws but even at other times. We don’t know why she chooses to break up her relationship, for instance. So it is still not clear to me why I felt this constant sadness while watching this film.
All of this perhaps make watching the film sound like a bleak experience. But actually I found the film almost playful in a way. It seems to be straddling this line between fiction and non-fiction. We are clearly following the story of this fictional character Nana. But then we have these passages in the film which seem completely factual. Another example of this is Nana’s discussion with the philosopher where she seems to be really trying to make sense of these questions floating around in her head. That discussion is quite long and once again this feels like something that’s happening in real time. We are not just listening to excerpts but to an entire conversation. So already, this feels like fiction meets documentary or something. When we see Nana go to the movies, she is watching La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, a film that focuses so much on Maria Falconetti’s face. Then there’s this added layer from the fact that this is Godard directing his own wife in this film. Towards the end of the film, we have this reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s story, “The Oval Portrait”, a story that’s basically about a man obsessed with a portrait of his wife. And somehow all this felt like a filmmaker playing with these ideas and having fun with them.
The ending felt like it was already foretold by the Poe story. I also felt like Godard doesn’t even give us time to really mourn the ending. Just like the rest of the film, here again, we are abruptly taken out of the film just as we register what has just happened.
I don’t know if this comes across from my write-up but I liked the film a lot. I am also in awe of the film, I think. If my reaction sounds muted at all, it is only because watching it was somewhat depressing to me. I like movies that have that effect on me. So all is good.
I also feel like I still have questions about it that won’t be answered unless I watch it again.