I     To Make Choices

I am sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper. It is a Saturday morning and I should be looking through the employment section when I see a picture of a woman that catches my attention:

The woman, it turns out to be, is Anna Karina. She has dark hair and big sad eyes. I discover that she stars in one of the films screening at a French Film Festival at the Treasury Theatre. The film she is in is called Vivre Sa Vie or “My Life to Live”. It is screening tonight at 9.30pm. I want to go and as I drink my tea I know that I will not be able to find anyone to go with me because my friends don’t go to movies on a Friday night, nor do they go to movies with subtitles made in 1962. The title of the film inclines me to do something I have never done before – tonight I will go to this film and I will go alone.

II    To Feel Free

I am driving along the South-Eastern Freeway at a quarter to nine. I know the time because the Nylex clock looms large over me as I take the Punt Road exit and head for the city. The skyline is beautiful. The buildings are all lit up. I think about my friends who will be getting ready to go to the pub – applying make-up, downing pre-pub drinks and talking, talking, talking! I can take it or leave it. I find a park near Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The gothic building is all lit up too and a fresh breeze whips around my ankles and makes me shiver. It is quite difficult to find the Treasury Theatre if you don’t know where you are going. But I can see a little sign at the top of a stairwell which has written on it: TREASURY THEATRE. I am very pleased with myself as I pick up a flyer at the door and buy my ticket.

I am early and so read everything on the flyer. The director is Jean-Luc Godard. He is a “bold experimenter” and “strikingly original” I am told by the flyer. There is a little café in the foyer of the cinema so I buy a coffee and watch the people arrive in pairs or groups as I drink it. There is something exotic about being here, even though I am still just in Melbourne and drinking coffee. I do this everyday in the kitchen of my suburban home. But there’s something different and tingly about doing it at a screening of a French film in an underground theatre in the middle of the city.

III  To Be Patient

I am watching the film and, to begin with, I am kept distant from the character of Nana. She is a young woman who has left her son and family to try and become an actress. She is following her dream – but it is perhaps an impossible dream (although in my mind it must have come true as I see her up there on the screen in front of me).

I cannot see her face at first and she is kept temptingly hidden from view for many minutes. The camera is behind her as she breaks up with her boyfriend at the bar of a restaurant. We get a better look at the bar man as his busies himself serving drinks. We can catch glimpses of her in the mirror behind him but it is not until she is working at a record shop that we get to see her face and find out that she needs money. She is beautiful I think. She has straight dark hair and it frames her face with a blunt fringe. Her eyes are big and the dark eyeliner she wears accentuates them. Her mouth is curious, sort of wide and flat and she seems always to be smoking. I want to take up smoking myself. And I think as I watch her smoke that I shall buy a packet of cigarettes after the screening.

IV  To Watch The Watcher

I am aware of my own place as a character in this film when Nana goes to a theatre to see a silent film called La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. I see a character in the film I have come to watch in a cinema herself watching another film. Am I, therefore, a character called Mairead watching Nana watching Jeanne? If the person being watched is also the watcher, I wonder who might be watching me. I look around me to find everyone else is watching Nana.

Then she begins to cry. She watches Joan of Arc being tried for heresy and condemned to burn at the stake. I see tears fall from Joan’s face and then I see them fall from Nana’s. I do not cry but I feel something catch in my throat and I hold my breath for a few seconds. And then it is all over and we are onto the next scene as if it never happened.

I hold my breath again at the end of the film when she is shot. She finds love with a young man who reads poetry and when she tries to break with her pimp he shoots her. I cannot leave the cinema until the lights come on.

V    To Appreciate Silence

For eighty-five minutes I sit in silence. I sit in a theatre with a projector behind me and screen in front. A beam of light bounces from one to the other and right before my eyes the life of Nana, played by Anna Karina, materialises. When I emerge from the theatre I have to remind myself that I am not in Paris in the 1960s, that the world does not exist in black and white and nor is it accompanied by a melancholic soundtrack.

I grab a festival flyer and return to my car. I drive home in silence as the last remnants of the film linger in my mind. I can vaguely hear the music from the closing credits. As that music fades I listen to the silence and recall Nana’s words in translation:

– Why must one always talk? Often one shouldn’t talk but live in silence. The more one talks the less words mean.

I arrive home and my parents ask me where I have been. I tell them and then they ask what the film was about and if it was good. I, like Nana, cannot find the words to describe it. I fall back on conventional phrases and do not really mean what I say:

– Oh, it’s about a girl who wants to become an actress but because she can’t get any work she becomes a prostitute instead. It was a bit silly and she dies in the end.

VI    To Live Your Life

I am sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper. It is now Sunday morning and I should be typing up my résumé to send out for job applications on Monday. I will be applying for mainly clerical work. I have not much experience; only half a BA and my recently acquired taste for French New Wave cinema. My friend Karina calls and asks me if I want to go shopping in Chapel Street with her. I don’t really, but perhaps because of her name I consent. She picks me up in her little white 1972 Ford Capri. As we drive to Chapel Street, Karina tells me all the gossip from last night. She kissed some guy called Justin. He is one of the regulars at the pub but I can’t put a face to his name.

I tell Karina about the film I went to the night before but quickly change the subject back to Justin when she asks me:

– Who did you go with again?

Karina tries on a pair of suede pants and a halter-neck top to wear to the pub tonight. Justin is going to be there. I can’t afford to buy a pair of pants but I have just enough for a movie ticket. I pull out the flyer for the festival as Karina is paying for her purchases (she has a job) and find that a film called Jules and Jim by François Truffaut is screening tonight. It was made in 1961 and stars Jeanne Moreau. I put the flyer back in my pocket and say nothing to Karina as she tells me that Justin is the captain of the football team. I smile and say that’s nice and ask her if I can have one of her cigarettes.

About The Author

Mairéad Phillips is completing her doctoral thesis on Hitchcock at the University of Melbourne where she has taught on Hitchcock at an honours and masters level. She teaches summer and winter courses on cinema and philosophy at the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy. She also provided an audio commentary on Secret Agent (1936) for the restored DVD release of Hitchcock’s British films by Madman Entertainment.