Jean-Luc Godard owned the 1960s’ generational mojo as no other international filmmaker did, with a run of some 15 masterpieces that rearranged our axons in considering movies not as an alternative to, an escape from, life, but rather life itself, as integral and luscious in the flow of our days as a sexual act or a game of tennis or a dockside lobster or you name it. Of course, history and politics and society are always autopsied as well in the process, even in the relatively small-framed but crystalline Vivre sa vie (My Life to Live, 1962), a virtual dissertation on gender-exploitation ambivalence, as Anna Karina’s ocean-eyed gamine turns to prostitution to pay her rent, and the film documents her downward trajectory in twelve discreet chapters with a balance of pitiful fascination and icy critique. Sometimes overlooked in reconsiderations of Godard’s belle epoque, the movie is a formal gesture, spare on the surface but resonating with feeling. Sex work became here one of Godard’s ruling metaphors, but more importantly this is his second film with Karina and his first after their marriage, and the beautiful arc of their on-screen romance — thrumming for only a handful of years and a few films before collapsing and dying on the operating table that is 1966’s Made in U.S.A. — is here in its ardent-yet-questioning early stages. The justly famous sequence of Karina crying in the theater dark watching Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc is both a crucial thematic moment and a peerless paean to movie love. Godardians have no choice but to step up, but civilians should consider that the out-of-print, eleven-year-old DVD of Vivre sa vie is pricey, rare, and overdue for a revamp.
Vivre sa vie screens Saturday and Sunday afternoon at the Museum of Arts and Design.