Vivre Sa Vie

There is something a bit contrary in me that whenever I hear something described as a classic, I am immediately skeptical I will like it. Maybe it’s the years in school being scolded with the most tedious tomes as examples. But with Vivre Sa Vie, I was dead wrong. They say it is a perfect film, and I have no arguments. Almost unearthly beautiful, and a joy to watch.

Nana is 22 and leaves her husband and son to pursue her dream of being a movie actress. A bit self-involved, but she is awfully young. She feels she needs to give it a shot.

Because this is a black-and-white French film, she inevitably becomes a prostitute. Unable to make ends meet working in a record store, she gets lifted by the polis for trying to filch 1000 francs off a woman. With nae cash and a criminal record, she ends up staying in a neighbourhood with day hookers. There she picks up the local trade, and is in the swing of things in no time.

An aside that isn’t strictly about reviewing the movie, but it must have been gui colder in those days. All the lassies are in cardigans and wool skirts. No a body stocking between them.

One of the nicer things about Vivre Sa Vie is that it doesn’t deny Nana agency, or say that because she has wound up in sex work after the loss of her dream, she views herself as in any way a victim. Nana remains who she has been, someone sensitive to beauty and art, with a questioning, dreaming mind. She is friendly with other working girls and kind. She kinda sleepwalks into becoming a full-time hooker, not really knowing at what point she let go of ever becoming an actress. She is content merely to be making ends meet, and after her first john, she seems nonplussed by her work. She doesn’t seem to be looking to a future, seeing her work more as a means allowing her to live her life, not thinking beyond the horizon.

While Nana seems insulated by the worse elements of the sex trade, the men in the film are under no illusions what game they are playing. Her pimp insults her, instructs her to refuse no one, takes her earnings, and is indifferent to her emotional life.

The ending is abrupt and brutal. Nana’s idea of her life and that of the men around her intersect. In a way, it is good that it is so brief, as it allows the focus to remain of Nana as the main actor in her life, and her character to be centre of the tale.

Really excellent film. All the hype is justified.