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Jean-Luc Godard's fourth feature, released in 1963, was only the second of his movies seen in the United States (he had made six by this point). It seemed so formal and contained in comparison to his impassioned debut, Breathless, as to bewilder many people who had not viewed the works between (The Little Soldier, A Woman Is a Woman) or the two after (The Soldiers, Contempt). My Life to Live was also an intensely personal project, a fictional series of tableaux starring Godard's wife, the Dutch actress Anna Karina, as a Parisian salesgirl who leaves her husband to become an actress but then drifts into prostitution. Embracing a favorite, romantic theme of European filmmakers--the soulful heroine who sacrifices her body to the world's demands but maintains her self and purpose (think of Max Ophuls's Lola Montes, Carl Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, and Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves)--Godard wed Karina's image to the tradition and then wed the tradition to his abiding interest in cinematic deconstruction and reconstruction. When Karina weeps while staring at a film clip of actress Maria Falconetti--as Joan in Dreyer's 1928 film--weeping (with Falconetti essentially a reversal of Karina, i.e., a French actress in a Dutch film), the boundaries of My Life to Live would almost seem to explode from the pressure of Godard's relentless crossing-over between film as an audience experience and film as an experience of itself. The fact that My Life to Live is actually rather muted in its energy and formal in appearance only heightens its extraordinary tensions. Highly recommended. --Tom Keogh
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