Monday, September 26, 2011

On Word & Image in Vivre sa vie

As we discussed in class, one of Godard’s central concerns is the relationship between the image and the word.  How can an image engender thought in a manner that is usually reserved for the structures of language?  In what way can the image exceed the potentiality of the word and communicate something entirely new?  This question is posed multiple times within his film Vivre sa vie.

First, in the scene where Nana discusses the value of the spoken word with the philosopher Brice Parian, it is clear that Godard is shifting away from the existentialist issues that dominate the dialogue of the film to ruminate on the issue.  Here Godard, via Nana, questions the ability of words to represent actual thought and wonders if words actually betray the user.  Why is it that words must be used to understand one another?  Why must one always talk?  Is it possible to live in silence yet still communicate?  Finally, can one distinguish thought from the words that express it? 

These questions foreground the longstanding premise that thought is best articulated via language into a film that largely relies on the image to convey thought.  Although Nana never explicitly asks about the image, Godard is posing this very question throughout the entire film through extensive use of close-up photography.  The close-up, as in Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, becomes a communicative means to show thought through the expressiveness of the face as recorded by the image.

Further, in looking at the relation between Poe’s The Oval Portrait and the entire project of Vivre sa vie, Godard seems to be asking whether there is danger in giving over too much power to the image.  Poe’s story tells of an artist that is so obsessed with creating a perfect image of the real that he destroys the real for the sake of the image.  Vivre sa vie can be read as a retelling of The Oval Portrait in the way that Godard wants to identify himself with the artist of Poe’s story by demonstrating through a seemingly endless amount of beautiful close-ups of Nana’s face his obsession with creating a perfect image of his then wife.

I think it is of little purpose to interpret this film as merely a simple love letter to Anna Karina.  By asking these questions on the nature of the image to the word, artist to the image and art to life, Godard still finds a way to ask the imperative questions that matter to his larger project.


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