Lost in the Movies: The Passion of Anna K. (video essay on Jean-Luc Godard & Anna Karina)

The Passion of Anna K. (video essay on Jean-Luc Godard & Anna Karina)

Although I prefer to stick to the 3-a-week schedule, it looks like this week I'll be posting on Tuesday and Thursday as well, so stay tuned.

This is a video that has been on my mind for at least four years. Now I'm finally able to realize it for Fandor Keyframe.

Here is my written introduction for the non-narrated video:

For six breathless years, actress Anna Karina and her filmmaker husband Jean-Luc Godard forged a cinematic partnership that remains legendary. Their collaboration is charted over the course of seven feature films: Le Petit Soldat (1960), A Woman is a Woman (1961), Vivre sa vie (1962), Band of Outsiders (1964), Alphaville(1965), Pierrot le fou (1966) and Made in USA (1966). Split into seven montages (one for each film), "The Passion of Anna K." traces the evolution of Karina's craft as well as her purpose within Godard's work. Each montage is bookended by Karina's first and last appearances in the particular film, a guideline that yields surprising revelations. We witness her transformation from playful ingenue to hardboiled pro. Trajectories emerge with tidal rhythm rather than the logic of a straight line: from love to disillusionment, affection to respect, spontaneity to rigor, passivity to power. (To reference a straightforward explication of the couple's relationship and collaboration, see Tyler Knudsen's complementary approach in "Godard and Karina: A Marriage on Film", which I discovered after making this).

Each montage features a simple title to guide us through the ebb and flow of this onscreen relationship.

"Muse" depicts Veronica from Le Petit Soldat as a cherished object of affection, observed externally. Concerned with capturing her vivacious aura but unable to enter her mind, the film itself eventually seems to close in on this butterfly.

"Performance" presents an actress simultaneously more enigmatic and more exposed (especially when Godard includes Karina's weepy line flub), reflecting the fact that in A Woman is a Woman Angela is the central subject rather than just a love interest.

"Discovery" echoes Vivre sa vie's structure with 12 shots (one from each chapter of the film) weaving together Godard's reverential but cold photography of Nana, the actress' growing command of gesture and expression, and the director's own narration of an Edgar Allan Poe story detailing an artist's lethal desire to capture his wife's presence in his art.

"Conversation," reflects Band of Outsiders' raw, uncertain dynamic of director and star, pushing forward from the previous film's breakthrough/dead end. Godard veers between vocalizing Odile's thoughts himself, and allowing Karina to express the character's own ideas and feelings.

"Awakening" chronicles the longing emotional distance between Alphaville's stoic hero and the brainwashed Natasha. Linking Karina's acting prowess with Godard's growing alienation from his muse, this genuinely poignant scenario climaxes with a declaration of love whose formality echoes the couple's first collaboration, suggesting lovers as strangers.

"Rupture" represents Pierrot le Fou as the collaborators' passionate, doomed final fling. Marianne's story is a brilliant microcosm of the entire Karina-Godard dynamic (from meet-cute through intense romance to disenchantment, distance, and destruction), conducted with a despairing self-awareness climaxing (for the third and final time) with the death of Karina's character.

"Freedom" serves as a surprise epilogue, using Made in USA to move beyond the previous films' framework. Karina plays Paula, a strong if also cartoonish heroine (the comic-book stylization of the film has been heightened by the montage's own design). Following a bittersweet reversal of the earlier films' climaxes, we conclude on a cautiously optimistic note, with the character, the actress, and the director all moving into an uncertain, open-ended future.

Update 2017: H. Perry Horton wrote a great little piece to accompany this video for Film School Rejects called "The Muse Matters" - check it out!

uploaded to YouTube 2017 (update 2020: but the link is currently private due to a copyright back-and-forth that I don't want to deal with again until my Twin Peaks videos are finished... as of 2022, it is public again)

The initial impetus for this idea came from Richard Brody's thorough Godard biography Everything is Cinema (2008) which connects the dots between Godard's tumultuous relationship with Karina and the stories he tells, events he depicts, and ways that he scripts and especially photographs Karina's characters. While that context isn't mandatory to appreciate the video (let alone the actual films) it certainly does add another interesting dimension to their dynamic, especially given the personal, confessional nature of Godard's filmmaking. Personally, I think Godard's and Karina's collaboration gets to the heart of movies - the interaction of an author's point of view with the larger world, a world that (especially when embodied by the human form of a performer) may push back with another identity, creating new complications and yielding unforeseen treasures.

Additional pictures follow the jump...

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