Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Vivre sa vie (1962)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
While his real mother lies dying of tuberculosis, a ten-year-old boy, being raised by a loafing World War II veteran and his new wife, plays rock-paper-scissors and hide-and-go-seek with imaginary friends. Toshio—known to his parents only as “Boy”—has hopes to become an alien one day, and he shares his quixotic daydreams with his toddler brother, PeeWee, who cannot speak but is enamored of his older brother’s imaginative tales.
In reality, Toshio is the linchpin in his parents’ get-rich-quick scheme, in which they throw themselves in front of cars to extort money from the drivers. At first, he is merely an accessory, used to imbue guilt, but as he becomes more inured to the thanklessness of society, Toshio begins to be the “victim” and take the literal fall instead. Based on a true story Oshima read in the newspaper, Boy uses a powerful linear narrative full of cross-country jaunts between countryscapes and cityscapes to follow an outlaw family as they live their bleak, cyclical feast-or-famine lifestyle and explore the emotional depths between them.
Godard, like Oshima, is a pillar of visceral, astringent filmmaking. In My Life to Live, his then-wife, legendary muse Anna Karina, shines as Nana, an aspiring actress who, instead of pursuing success in cinema, drifts into a life of vagrancy and prostitution. In a dozen numbered tableaux mannered after a 19th-century novel, Nana works at a record store, beds strange men, struts around an otherwise deserted pool hall, and abandons her previous life to pursue philosophical questions about the nature of self-perception.
Each film is a montage of closeups of its protagonist, their lives and their faces—each a character who, though years and countries apart, wants nothing more than to feel secure; to feel like they are living the best life they possibly can. Toshio and Nana are hopelessly children; they’re self-sacrificial lambs who succumb to the exploitation of father figures, cruel men, and society itself, all for whatever their warped version of what the greater good might be. Samantha Vacca (Vivre sa vie March 4, 7pm & March 13, 9:13pm; Boy March 4, 9:15pm & March 13, 7pm at BAM’s “Oshima X Godard”)