Monday, May 14, 2012

Editing in Jean Luc-Godard’s Vivre sa vie (1962) - Unconventional, Revolutionary
or Reads Like a Book?

Perhaps both thoughtful and at the same time spontaneous, Jean-Luc Godard’s style assisted in him in creating of a new form for the narrative. He uses many unconventional direction and editing techniques to create his film Vivre sa vie. Viewing film as an art form, Godard certainly pioneered a break from the use of continuity editing to tell this story. Like with all works of art, the viewer will decide whether his innovative style enhances or detracts from the story in Vivre sa vie. Either way, as much as Godard innovated and used unusual techniques, there’s evidence that he still used many classical methods that maintained a sequential narrative. Like a book, the film Vivre sa vie has chapters, and each one begins with third person spoken words as if we are being told a bed-time story. This immediately sets up a consequential determination for the story of the main character, Nana. A young mother who leaves her family to become an actress, and who is destined for destruction. Throughout Vivre sa vie Godard breaks away from classical editing. Godard’s most obvious betrayal to the classical Hollywood style is in his violation of the 180 degree system. He has no loyalty to such a system. Using shot after shot, he dramatically distances himself from classical continuity: where each frame’s space is reflected from one side of an 180 degree arc, people within are seen where they are expected to be, and what they see is what we expect them to see. Chapter 11 will provide, for discussion here, many examples of this. Indeed, Godard juxtaposes the camera in no set fashion, and intentionally breaks the routine of maintaining temporal dignity within the setting. Beginning with an intentionally misaligned shot, reverse shot. where Nana has mouthed a kiss and we expect to see her eyeline match in the reverse shot, spectator expectations are frustrated. Instead what we see is not the person’s face with whom she‘s flirted, but a medium close up of a man passing by with his back to us. None of his face visible and therefore no expression for us to rely upon. Nana’s actions go unnoticed. It’s the technique that Godard does not use that progresses the character’s, Nana’s, motivation. The next shot and reverse shot are also misaligned with the inspector driving by in his new car, then a cut to Nana pointing and smiling, but he’s already passed. This is one of many illustrations of the disjointedness of Nana’s character in the world.

Another aspect of Godard’s innovation, in addition to the unusual manner he employs temporal and spatial conventions, is in his use of a daringly simplified Mise en Scene as compared with a classical Hollywood setting. We see Nana walk after a john who has indicated his intention to purchase her service, then cut to them walking down a hall together, a high angle shot through the stair banister, then to a shot of the interior
Shot 1
of the room in which they’ve arrived--but they are not there. We just see what we presume to be the hotel room with a closet door with a mirror and no reflection. The setting is mostly empty and there is no match on action. It’s in Godard’s ability to strip out, using temporal and spacial gaps and disruption, which causes the viewer the same alienation and emptiness that Nana might feel as a prostitute walking into the room where she’ll exchange sex for money. If that weren’t 
Shot 2
bad enough, after discussing payment, Nana asks “are you romantic?”, almost as if she were a teenager on a date, but the response is rebuffed. Godard shows the john’s mouthing words, but does not allow us to hear. Instead, we hear from Nana repeating his desire to have a 2nd girl. Nana needs to find another girl to satisfy the man. She’s not special enough.


Shot 3
In the next sequence of shots Nana leaves the room to find another girl. We watch her go in several directions opening and shutting doors in a close hallway. Each instance of the room’s occupants shows us how inconsequential Nana’s existence is to judged. Behind the first door Nana opens, the prostitute appears in total nudity from the side, sitting down straight-back looking straight ahead with the john’s back to us kneeling down his left arm situated on the over the girls thighs, both turn slightly towards Nana, but say nothing. Nana closes the door. Then we are viewing a door straight ahead which we think is to the right, but we don’t see Nana opening the door, instead we see the reflection of another door and the sound of the door that she is presumably opening and shutting, behind us. Nana opens and enters yet another door and disappears from our sight to the left this time. We see a girl standing in the nude with her back to us and a John passing behind her to where Nana presumably stands. He asks what is it? Nana exits the room, saying “nothing,” pulling the door closed.

Shot 4
Shot 5
She’s in a confused, trapped space where she’s looking for help, and her interaction with others is cold and nonchalant. It’s as if she’s in the record store, and returning a response to a client who’s asking if there is an album by a specific artist. No intonation in the voice, just a relay of 
Shot 6
facts. Nana doesn’t fit in, she’s going in the wrong direction, like running up a down escalator. Finally a girl comes out of a room, and Nana asks what she’s doing and if she can spare a moment. The girl asks how much and Nana responds “ask him.” Everyone else is concerned with themselves.

The john makes arrangements with the other girl and begins a sexual encounter with her, while Nana is still undressing. This 2nd girl is more desirable than Nana. Godard uses this alternative approach to classical editing techniques and shows Nana’s lack of self-worth in the world (and her life). She is easily replaced by another girl and does not even need to undress. She is not noticed, she is vapid. Life goes on without her. We see her before the window and balcony, but she’s nothing, no one. She’s worse than just an object to Men, her existence makes no difference.

Godard’s unusual screen direction provides us with striking images that both cater to and undermine our
understanding of the main character. His use of discrepancy serves as a visual interpretation of Nana. She doesn’t have a place in the world, there is no consistency in her life, outside of disruption. She lacks control and so we as viewers are subjected to Godard’s imagery to that effect.

Shot 7
In Godard's Vivre sa vie, we are forced to vicariously experience Nana’s journey from a mother, to wannabe actress, to unwanted prostitute as cataloged in each of chapter through Godard’s lens. And, we are forced to attend to her demise. With all the stokes of Godard’s brush, the end result is still a narrative driven piece of cinematography. As much as Godard innovated using unusual editing techniques, these served to flavor, but do not break the sequential story of Nana and her downfall from beginning, to middle, to the end.


Thanks for reading. Peace out.

Shot by Shot Breakdown 

Shot 1 (Medium shot) Straight-on angle. Nana and John
negotiating, after she says “If you
give me more, you can stay.”
370 frames

Shot 2

(Medium close-up)

Straight-on angle. Door in hallway.
Nana’s hand comes in from left to
push open door.

39 frames

Shot 3

(Medium long shot)

Straight on angle. Nana’s POV.
Door opens showing nude prostitute 
with john and door closes.

120 frames

Shot 4

(Medium close-up)

Straight-on angle. Door in hallway.

24 frames

Shot 5
(Medium close-up)
Straight-on angle. Door in hallway
with shadow of another door opening.

72 frames

Shot 6

(Medium close-up)

Straight-on angle. Door in hallway
with shadow of another door closing.

72 frames

Shot 7

(Close up)

Straight-on angle. Nana’s back from
the right side.

72 frames


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

    ReplyDelete