Anna Karina 22nd September 1940 – 14th December 2019

The beguiling French-Danish icon of the nouvelle vague has died at the age of 79.  So much more than Godard’s muse, she starred in several genres and literary adaptations for many directors, was a decent singer, novelist and directed films herself. She had a voice, grace and infinite talent. Adieu, Madame.

Bande a Part (1964)

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Aka Band of OutsidersA Who-Dunit, Who’s Got-It, Where-Is-It-Now Wild One From That “Breathless” director Jean-Luc Godard!  Smalltime crooks and cinéphile slackers Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) spend their days mimicking the antiheroes of Hollywood noirs and Westerns while pursuing the lovely Odile (Anna Karina) whom they meet at English class. The misfit trio upends convention at every turn, through choreographed dances in cafés or frolicsome romps through the Louvre trying to set a record for fastest circumnavigation. Eventually, their romantic view of outlaws pushes them to plan their own heist, but their inexperience may send them out in a blaze of glory – just like their B-movie heroes … Isn’t it strange how people never form a whole?Ostensibly an adaptation of a novel called Fool’s Gold by Dorothy Hitchens, that’s just a skeleton on which the mischievous Jean-Luc Godard drapes his love and admiration of Hollywood genres (and Karina) over a series of apparently improvised riffs in this lightly constructed charmer. A few clues for latecomers: Several weeks ago… A pile of money… An English class… A house by the river… A romantic young girl... It’s a splendidly rackety affair, with several standout scenes providing the postmodern matrix for much of pop culture (and a name for Quentin Tarantino’s production company). It’s Godard at his most playful, joyous and audience-pleasing, exploring what it’s like to not want to grow up and how it’s always possible to have fun with like-minded people. Then, you go a little too far and someone goes and spoils it all for everyone. Maybe. Sheer pleasure. Godard said of the dance scene: “Alice in Wonderland as re-choreographed by Kafka”. A minute of silence can last a long time… a whole eternity

Agnes Varda 30th May 1928 – 29th March 2019

The heroine of the Nouvelle Vague has died. Agnès Varda wasn’t just a director, she was a master of a medium she knew little about when she made her brilliant debut, La Pointe Courte in 1955. She infused all her work – mainly in documentary – with a finessed sensibility that transcends the time in which it is made and her major features, Cleo de 5 à 7 and Le Bonheur are devastating portraits of contemporary womanhood. The later Vagabond was as shocking as her earlier work and made Sandrine Bonnaire a star. Her marriage to Jacques Demy was complex and yielded a wonderful homage, Jacquot de Nantes, a combination of essay with cinephilia that is utterly unique. Documentaries and art installations proved her humanity, flooded with an interest in the marginalised, the unheralded and the quotidian.  She seemed to take great pleasure in finding everyday faces and places. She was making films until quite recently and was a regular visitor to film festivals where I was privileged to hear her speak on occasion. Varda seemed to be able to access her inner child, eternally youthful, questioning and interested, an impression assisted by that French bob she wore until the end. Some critics would claim her films have outlasted those of her male peers:  I wouldn’t entirely disagree. Merci, Agnès.

Vivre sa vie: film en douze tableaux (1962)

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Autant que je sache, le mariage entre Jean-Luc Godard et Anna Karina fut foutu pendant le tournage – et bien, ce film-ci, dedie aux B-movies, soit en meme temps une espece du cinema verite (fonde dans une these, Ou en est la prostitution, de Marcel Sacotte), un hommage a Karina par un mari obsede, et aussi un film assez experimentale, bien que le camera (un Mitchell) fut beaucoup plus lourd que normale pour un film de la nouvelle vague (cinematographie par Raoul Coutard). Karina est impressionante et emouvante dans ce conte tragique, une femme qui depart son mariage et famille pour une carriere comme actrice mais elle se trouve obligee a se prostituer, venduee  d’un souteneur a un autre, et finalement tuee. Une histoire d’un amour fou et mortel, entre un realisateur et sa muse.

Breathless (1959)

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Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol dreamed up the story, a riff on Gun Crazy and homage to Bogart. It is celebrated for its technique but it is so much more. Jean-Luc Godard conducted an alchemical transformation with Raoul Coutard’s moving camera and jump cuts; the music by Martial Solal has a breezy quality that transports us there, to that very place, Paris, at that moment;  the cars and shirts and hats make us dream of timeless style. Belmondo is insouciant and charismatic, Seberg disarming. The quality of charm is underrated in movies:  that is what remains in this core episode of cinema, the ultimate cool. Essential.