Vivre sa Vie (1962)

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Released 21-Jun-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Adrian Martin, Film Critic And Co-Editor Of Rouge Films
Short Film-Une Histoire d'Eau(1958) 12 Minute
Trailer-Mon Oncle, The Lepard, Tokyo Story
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1962
Running Time 85
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jean-Luc Godard
Madman Entertainment
Starring Anna Karina
Sady Rebbot
André S. Labarthe
Guylaine Schlumberger
Gérard Hoffman
Monique Messine
Paul Pavel
Dimitri Dineff
Peter Kassovitz
Eric Schlumberger
Brice Parain
Henri Attal
Gilles Quéant
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Michel Legrand

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes, French/Gaulloises - enough said.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Famous credit sequence

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis


"(Godard) is a deliberate destroyer of cinema
- hardly the first the cinema has known, but certainly the most persistent and prolific and timely"

Susan Sontag

    Jean-Luc Godard is one of the most critiqued filmmakers in cinema history. Along with his contemporaries, who formed the "nouvelle vague" or French New Wave, he revolutionized cinema bringing in a breath of fresh air that lasted for a decade. He was an originator of the auteur theory that a film should be the distinctive work of the director.

    In the 1950s Godard was a film critic, like Francois Truffaut, writing in the Cahiers Du Cinema, the legendary magazine that sought to castigate the norm and elevate the unsung. Over the space of a few years Godard, Truffaut and Bresson, amongst others, created films synonymous with revolutionary cinema. For Truffaut it began with The 400 Blows and for Godard it was Breathless. It made him an instant star in a way matched only by filmmakers like Michael Cimino and Quentin Tarantino.

    Vivre Sa Vie ( variously translated as It's My Life or My Life To Live) was Godard's fourth feature, made in 1962. It was dedicated to B movies and is surtitled "A Film In Twelve Scenes".

    The film is a perfect encapsulation of everything Godard was to cinema in the 1960s. To the extent that it has a plot it depicts the downward spiral into prostitution of Nana (Anna Karina - the director's wife). Each of the scenes is prefaced by a title card which explains what will happen in the scene. Although they are sequential there is no sense of time in the movie and we have no idea if the film occurs over the course of days, weeks or months.

    Godard has no interest in plot and the reference to B movies only points towards the bare outlines of crime and tragedy which lie at the edge of the movie.

    Everything Godard did in Vivre Sa Vie has been copied but it is worth imagining how the audience must have felt when seeing the film for the first time. It opens with a close up of Nana's face, like mugshots, with credits alongside. Music starts then abruptly stops. After seeing three images of her from different profiles we are launched into the first scene. It is Nana and her ex-husband talking in a cafe. Godard shoots almost the whole scene from behind the actors so that we hear what they are saying but, as in life, we are unable to read the reactions of the characters. When we do see Nana's face she is deep yet empty and Godard invites us to look and analyse her moods and moves.

    The music for the film is extraordinary. Apparently Godard asked composer Michel Legrand to write a theme and 11 variations. He did so only for Godard to throw away all but a fragment of the music which he uses judiciously throughout the film as a motif. Even in fragmented form the theme is memorable. It is this approach to splitting up ideas that is typical of Godard's work. In Vivre Sa Vie there are long wordless passages followed by scenes featuring detailed and complex dialogue or philosophical dissertations.

    The film overflows with cultural references. Aside from pop music, Godard introduces philosophy through an actual philosopher who has a long talk with Nana, other cinematic homages and even a long poem by Edgar Allen Poe (read by Godard himself). One scene takes place in a cinema where Nana is watching The Passion of Joan of Arc. Godard crosses back and forth from screen image to Nana until the characters blend.

    Shot in a glorious black and white that makes it at once hip and traditional Vivre Sa Vie is a classic of French cinema which launched a thousand imitators as well as a few more parodies. It sums up everything that the French New Wave stood for, including a distance from the filmmaking process - seen most remarkably when from time to time we see Nana looking directly at us as if to question why we are watching her. It is really Karina's movie and although there are other characters they are not that memorable or their parts that well acted. It is a dance between filmmaker and subject, a documentary of Nana.

    All of the key films from the French New Wave era hold some merit but for my money Vivre Sa Vie is amongst the most underrated. Susan Sontag held the same view and championed it over many years admiring its innovations. It was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1962 but Godard won the Special Jury Prize that year. Any fan of French cinema should already have bought this by now. It is no easy entertainment but for sheer intellect and audacity Vivre Sa Vie is indispensable for any lover of fine cinema.

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Transfer Quality


   Vivre Sa Vie comes to DVD in a 1.33:1, 4x3 Full Frame transfer. This is the original aspect ratio.

    There is no mention on the packaging of any restoration. This is surprising as the film is in impeccable condition. The black and white photography is gorgeous and there are no real defects with the transfer. There is some grain befitting its age but nothing untoward and the level of detail is quite astounding. One has to look hard to see artefacts and they are in the nature of small specks. Frequently shot in close-up we can identify with every line on Nana's face.

    The subtitles are clear and easy to read. At times Godard puts French subtitles directly on the print but there is no difficulty with the words overlapping.

    All in all an exemplary transfer for a film that is over 40 years old.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sound for Vivre Sa Vie is French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s). Famously, Godard apparently just recorded the sound without any attempt to overdub or mess with the live sound. This means that occasionally background noise such as passing cars may intrude on the spoken word but this is no problem for the English speaking viewer. Godard probably wasn't worried about any times when dialogue was hard to hear. No doubt he would have been happy for art to mirror real life.

    As mentioned above, the main theme is poignant and unforgettable. There are some other pieces of music used including a pop song from the 50s (the pop-star can be seen drinking coffee in the cafe while it is playing!) and a great groovy tune composed by Legrand to which Nana dances in a bar.

    There is some hiss to be heard but overall the sound is excellent.

    Audio sync appears to be good.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Vivre Sa Vie comes with some interesting extras.

Main Menu Audio

    This is an image of Nana's face accompanied by the music from the bar pool hall dancing scene.

Audio Commentary - by Adrian Martin

    The audio commentary by Adrian Martin is a worthwhile indulgence. Despite his deep knowledge of the film Mr Martin does not descend into over-intellectualizing the film. Instead, he presents some interesting facts and information about the making of the film and assists cinephile and newcomer alike with an understanding of the movie. In other words, it is a critic's commentary that doesn't make you feel dumb. It is a great joy to have an Australian voice on a Region 4 DVD and I look forward to hearing more from Mr Martin on other films.

    He points out the references that Godard uses for the movie including two important moments, the speech Nana's pimp gives her about prostitution and the letter she writes to a prospective madam, as having been culled directly from a book by a judge on the evils of prostitution. The commentary track adds greatly to an understanding and enjoyment of the film.

Short Film - Un Historie d'Eau

    The short movie added to this release is an enjoyable combination of footage shot by Truffaut of a recent flood and a barely-there story of a girl who wants to get to Paris. It was made in 1961. It is impossibly cool, with the film told by the girl in voice-over (including reading some of the closing credits!). Whilst having little substance it is another key work in the French New Wave and is a rare and useful addition.


    The DVD includes a photo gallery which, like many others, is just a series of shots from the film but, somewhat uniquely, is filmed and the camera pans across to give added meaning to the images.


    Finally, there are some trailers for other Madman releases including the Jaques Tati films.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 DVD appears to be the same in terms of the film but does not have the commentary or the short film. The Norwegian Region 2 release has the short but no English subtitles. Choose Region 4.


   Vivre Sa Vie is a classic French New Wave film full of style and thought. Anyone who likes their cinema interesting and artistically challenging will get a buzz out of Godard's bag of tricks and his steadfast refusal to turn the film into a "movie".

    The film and audio transfer are really pleasing. This is no Hollywood blockbuster - it was made cheaply and on the fly - but the black and white photography is rendered in beautiful detail on the DVD.

    The extras are extremely rewarding. Not only is the commentary eminently listenable but the short film, though not really memorable, is cute and unlikely to be seen elsewhere.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo DV-SP300, using Component output
DisplayNEC PlasmaSync 42" MP4 1024 x 768. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJBL Simply Cinema SCS178 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
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