My Life to Live

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My Life to Live
Theatrical poster
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Produced by Pierre Braunberger
Written by Jean-Luc Godard
Marcel Sacotte
Starring Anna Karina
Sady Rebbot
André S. Labarthe
Guylaine Schlumberger
Gérard Hoffman
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography Raoul Coutard
Edited by Jean-Luc Godard
Agnès Guillemot
Distributed by Panthéon Distribution
Release dates
  • 20 September 1962 (1962-09-20) (France)
Running time
85 minutes
Country France
Language French

My Life to Live (French: Vivre sa vie : film en douze tableaux; To Live Her Life: A Film in Twelve Scenes) is a 1962 French drama film directed by Jean-Luc Godard. It was released as My Life to Live in North America and as It's My Life in United Kingdom. The DVD releases use the original French title.


Nana (Anna Karina), a beautiful Parisian in her early twenties, leaves her husband and infant son hoping to become an actress. Without money, beyond what she earns as a shopgirl, and unable to enter acting, she elects to earn better money as a prostitute. Soon she has a pimp, Raoul, who after an unspecified period agrees to sell Nana to another pimp. During the exchange the pimps argue and in a gun battle Nana is killed. Nana's short life on film is told in 12 brief episodes each preceded by a written resume. Godard introduces other idiosyncrasies to focus the viewer's attention.

The twelve tableaux[edit]

The divisions of this film are displayed as intertitles on the screen. These are:

  • Tableau one: A bistro - Nana wants to leave Paul - Pinball
  • Tableau two: The record shop - 2000 francs - Nana lives her life
  • Tableau three: The concierge - The passion of Joan of Arc - a journalist
  • Tableau four: The police - Nana is questioned
  • Tableau five: The outer boulevards - the first man - the hotel room
  • Tableau six: Yvette - a café in the suburbs - Raoul - machine gun fire
  • Tableau seven: The letter - Raoul again - the Champs Élysées
  • Tableau eight: Afternoons - money - wash-basins - pleasure - hotels
  • Tableau nine: A young man - Nana wonders if she's happy
  • Tableau ten: The sidewalk - a man - there's no gaiety in happiness
  • Tableau eleven: Place de Chatelet - the stranger - Nana the unwitting philosopher
  • Tableau twelve: The young man again - the oval portrait - Raoul sells Nana



In Vivre sa vie, Godard borrowed the aesthetics of the cinéma vérité approach to documentary film-making that was then becoming fashionable. However, this film differed from other films of the French New Wave by being photographed with a heavy Mitchell camera, as opposed to the light weight cameras used for earlier films.[citation needed] The cinematographer was Raoul Coutard, a frequent collaborator of Godard.


One of the film's original sources is a study of contemporary prostitution, Où en est la prostitution by Marcel Sacotte, an examining magistrate.

Vivre sa vie was released shortly after Cahiers du cinéma (the film magazine for which Godard occasionally wrote) published an issue devoted to Bertolt Brecht and his theory of 'epic theatre'. Godard may have been influenced by it, as Vivre sa vie uses several alienation effects: twelve intertitles appear before the film's 'chapters' explaining what will happen next; jump cuts disrupt the editing flow; characters are shot from behind when they are talking; they are strongly backlit; they talk directly to the camera; the statistical results derived from official questionnaires are given in a voice-over; and so on.

The film also draws from the writings of Montaigne, Baudelaire, Zola and Edgar Allan Poe, to the cinema of Robert Bresson, Jean Renoir and Carl Dreyer.[citation needed] And Jean Douchet, the French critic, has written that Godard's film ' would have been impossible without Street of Shame, Kenji Mizoguchi's last and most sublime film.'[1] Nana gets into an earnest discussion with a philosopher (played by Brice Parain, Godard's former philosophy tutor), about the limits of speech and written language. In the next scene, as if to illustrate this point, the sound track ceases and the images are overlaid by Godard's personal narration. This formal playfulness is typical of the way in which the director was working with sound and vision during this period.[citation needed]

The film depicts the consumerist culture of Godard's Paris; a shiny new world of cinemas, coffee bars, neon-lit pool halls, pop records, photographs, wall posters, pin-ups, pinball machines, juke boxes, foreign cars, the latest hairstyles, typewriters, advertising, gangsters and Americana. It also features allusions to popular culture; for example, the scene where a melancholy young man walks into a cafe, puts on a juke box disc, and then sits down to listen. The unnamed actor is in fact the well known singer-songwriter Jean Ferrat, who is performing his own hit tune "Ma Môme" on the track that he has just selected. Nana's bobbed haircut replicates that made famous by Louise Brooks in the 1928 film Pandora's Box, where the doomed heroine also falls into a life of prostitution and violent death. In one sequence we are shown a queue outside a Paris cinema waiting to see Jules et Jim, the new wave film directed by François Truffaut, at the time both a close friend and sometime rival of Godard.

Critical response[edit]

While not being one of Godard's best-known films, Vivre sa Vie enjoys an extremely positive critical reputation. Susan Sontag, author and cultural critic, has described Godard's achievement in Vivre sa vie as "a perfect film" and "one of the most extraordinary, beautiful, and original works of art that I know of."[2] According to critic Roger Ebert, "The effect of the film is astonishing. It is clear, astringent, unsentimental, abrupt."[3]


  1. ^ Jean Douchet ' French New Wave' ISBN 1-56466-057-5
  2. ^ Susan Sontag, On Godard's Vivre sa vie, Moviegoer, no. 2, Summer/Autumn 1964, p. 9.
  3. ^ "Roger Ebert, "Great Movies" - Vivre sa Vie/My Life to Live". Retrieved 2012-02-06. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Colin MacCabe (2004) Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN 0-374-16378-2.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Peace to Him Who Enters
Special Jury Prize, Venice
Succeeded by
The Fire Within
tied with Introduction to Life