A few months ago I saw Citizen Kane for the first time. This afternoon I watched Vivre sa Vie for a second time; I had not seen it for a few years and I didn’t remember much of its style or form. Also, I’m studying film and one of the foundational texts we have to read is, of course, passages from Bazin’s What is Cinema?
So, watching Vivre sa Vie for the second time, I was struck by how much it reminded me of Citizen Kane. Or to be more precise I was reminded not only of the film, but of what Bazin thought were its contributions to the language of cinema. I found three points of comparison.
First, both films share an episodic structure. The sections in Vivre sa Vie seem slightly less causally connected, which makes sense given Godard’s general project in the 60’s of upending Hollywood conventions.
Second, both films make use of the long take as a major formal element. Now of course, Godard’s film doesn’t have the instantly recognizable shots staged in depth but it uses the long take in the spirit in which Bazin found it to be used in Citizen Kane. That is, its use is “based on a respect for the continuity of dramatic space and, of course, of its duration”. See for example, the sequence in which Anna Karina’s character works in the record store.
Third, Vivre sa vie uses montage in the same way it is used in Citizen Kane. The sequence in which the milieu of prostitution is described in Vivre sa Vie functions in the same way that the March of Time does in Citizen Kane. According to Bazin, Montage in Citizen Kane “is not trying to deceive us; it offers us a contrast, condensing time, and hence is the equivalent for example of the French imperfect or the English frequentative tense”.
So, I guess this post is to find out whether or not I’m out of mind or if I’ve made some sense or better yet if anyone has additional points of comparison.
Interesting comparison. Something you probably need to take into consideration is that Godard purposefully weighed himself down on Vivre sa Vie with the use of a traditional “big ass” camera (the only time, I think, he used this), while Welles was trying to free himself from same “big ass” camera.
Do you mean Welles didn’t want to use a “big ass” camera to shoot Citizen Kane? On that note, I actually prefer Godard’s use of static shots, pans and dollying to his brief foray with the handheld aesthetic.
I think the connections are superficial. Both films are utterly singular and both were highly influential. Godard loved Welles but I don’t think he owed so much to him in terms of film form. On another note, just watched Lang’s “While the City Sleeps” last night and it’s full of nods to “Kane”.
“Citizen Kane” is about an “Important Man.”
“Vivre sa Vie” is about “a woman of no importance.”
Both have vivid performances. But “Kane” centers on the mystery of its protagonist’s personality. Nana in “Vivre sa Vie” isn’t mysterious at all.
I’d say the reverse. In “Kane” we end up learning everything we could want to know about the protagonist, including what “Rosebud” means. All mysteries are expunged. In “Vivre” we never quite penetrate to the core of Nana, like the theory about the animal with the outside and the inside (and a soul). She’s a mystery throughout the film. We only get bits and pieces of where she comes from and not much more about where she hopes to go (or why she chooses to do what she does). Her death is even something of a mystery. Why did they shoot her? For that matter, who actually did shoot her, and who were they really aiming at? I’ve always found the ending of “Vivre” to be confusing and ambiguous.
I find the ending perfect.
Even though it’s stolen from “Hallelujah the Hills”
The ending is great, to be sure. As is the entire film. I’ve been hearing about how influential “Hallelujah the Hills” is for quite a while now. It’s about time I finally see the film.
But “Hallelujah the Hills” is from 1963, “Vivre Sa Vie” from 1962, right?
Hmm. Apparently so. Most people usually steal from Godard anyway!
Kane’s look is largely due to the genius of the great Gregg Toland. It would be interesting in this context to compare Toland’s work (small as it is due to his untimely death) with that of Raoul Coutard.