Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"My Life to Live" Raises the Question of Why

Cleveland Press April 8, 1964

Cinematic tricks are not enough. Nor are new and daring techniques sufficient for a work of art if the work lacks substance or meaning.

But this must be a minority view since "My Life to Live" has earned film festival awards and glowing praise from several quarters.

Certainly the work of French new wave director Jean Luc Godard makes this more than just a sordid little saga about a woman of the streets. But at its best, it is a tour-de-force, a curiosity for the movie buff.

The film concerns a woman who has separated from her husband. Their child is in a foster home. The woman, portrayed by Anna Karina, has dreams of a glamorous career. But she's a shopgirl in debt, unable to pay her rent and she drifts into prostitution.

UP TO THIS POINT it seems that her chosen profession is the result of her unfortunate plight. But with affluence comes happiness, and a feeling that she controls her destiny. Godard advances the philosophy that the pursuit of pleasure also is the search for truth.

She is destroyed but there is nothing tragic in her destruction. It comes almost as an accident and is meaningless.

Godard has broken his film into 12 segments, each neatly numbered and labeled. There are blackouts, sudden cuts, intricate fades and other tricks -- many of which seem to be self-conscious groping for effect.

THE FILM STOPS and we see several minutes clipped from an old French silent film, "The Passion of St. Joan." In another interlude there is a rambling discussion with an aging philosopher. At another point, a young man reads several pages from Poe.

Godard is at his best in bringing a fluid camera technique to the art of close-up photography. The lens lingers on Miss Karina's face, moves around it, watches and memorizes every expression.

But Godard's script, on the other hand, ranges back and forth from cold realism -- a calm description of the business aspects of prostitution -- to abstract obscurity.

At one point our heroine states: "The more we talk, the less it means." In the case of this movie, she's so right.