Anna Karina

Do words betray us? About Godard

“Do words betray us?” asked Nana to the philosopher Brice Parain in Jean-Luc Godards 1962 film Vivre sa vie. Godard’s cinematography is about words and, like that of his friend-enemy Truffaut, he likes to find the folds of existence, those that often do not tell each other, hide, that we hurry to stretch away with a good dose of appreatic. That existence is a combination of planning and randomness already emerged in the long plans-sequence of the Nouvelle Vague, which winked at existentialism.

A feigned rebellious France, which wrapped itself in the promiscuous sexual practices of De Beauvoir and Sartre or devoted itself to the study of prostitution (and experience?) in the group of friends formed by Truffaut, Godard and Polanski. After all, how could they have criticised the consumer society if they had not been the first consumers? And on this was consumed the terrible and insanitary break between Godard and Truffaut. And the prostitute, like the proletarian in Marx’s theory, stood as a symbol of commodification, of consumption, of fragmentation of bodies and lived, reduced to shreds of existence, now incommunicable.

Now in the world of prostitution, Nana, protagonist of Vivre sa vie, the beautiful Anna Karina, wife of Godard himself, launched herself into a conversation about language, words, truth and love: the kind gentleman met at the bar was in fact a philosopher in fiction and reality – Brice Parain, philosopher French. And indeed, the gap between cinematic fiction, or narrative plan, and the flow of existential reality had to be reduced to the bare minimum. As showed, moreover, the use of plan-sequence and long take, which reduced the assembly to the minimum necessary, according to Bazin’s theory (another breaking point compared to Truffaut). 

Nana fait de la philosophie sans le savoir, is the title of the penultimate tableau of the 12 of which is composed of Godard’s film. And he asks the philosopher, “Why do you always have to talk? I find that you should often be silent, live in silence. The more you talk, the less words have meaning. Maybe they betray us?”

Beyond Godard, aren’t words always an interpretation of reality, already its distortion, even a falsehood? If Ortega y Gasset felt that all words are adverb of place, Godard dismissed the question: all words are lies. Can we communicate everything? Is silence a lack of communication, or a mode of communication? Incommunicable things, as they are not communicated, communicate their purity, their secrecy, their intangibility. And that’s all they can communicate; nothing else. Therefore incommunicable things are the most distant things from the distortion of the word, the narrative, the narrative, even the most suave and poetic. Incommunicable things, things we never wanted to say, had to say, are the most sincere things we could ever communicate (see on this, for example And time is silent).

Incommunicable things are eternal: they never end, they never perish, they do not die once they are thrown into the world, they do not fly like words, according to the indication of Caio Tito, but they remain in the world of the unspoiled, of the silent, of the thought alone, of the long-imagined, of the ardently desired. Looks, gestures, grimaces, thoughts, dreams are great tools – the most authentic – of communication. Like Erik Satie, who lived in a two-room house and one of them was always closed: after his death, it was discovered that he kept so many umbrellas closed, which he collected, but never used. As if to say, the real umbrella should not even be opened, to prevent it from breaking and stop being an umbrella.

E. Satie, Gymnopédie No. 1

Therefore, if silence is a communicative mode, silence cannot imply the exclusion of the other. Every communication, in fact, requires an ontology of co-existence, since every communication is a relationality, at least dialogue: I-you. Silence, thus, ceases to be synonymous with loneliness, marginalization, frustration, anxiety, even communication incapacity, as if it were the brink of an autistic precipice or, worse, solipsistic. Communication becomes the art of weighing words, of understanding the other in the folds of non-verbal, made of looks, smells, gestures, winks, silences. 

Magritte, influenced by De Chirico’s non-communicable surrealism, who could not even give a face to his characters, declared in a radio interview given to Jean Neyens in 1965: “Anything cannot exist without its mystery. […] Everything we see hides another, and we always want to see what’s hidden behind what we see. There is an interest in what is hidden and that the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a fairly intense feeling, a type of struggle I would say, between the visible hiding and the visible that appears” (Millen 1965, 172).

A. M. Fantetti, Lovers VI (2012)

Nana, almost at the end of her philosophical conversation, cannot help but ask the philosopher: “And what do you think of love?”, misrepresenting the hidden thought that authentic love is perhaps incommunicable, inexpressible.

Yes, this is an apology of incommunicable, unexpressed things, an apology of the hypothetical, the conditional, the potential, the who knows, the future, the possible, the open-to-everything. Like a Godard plan-sequence.

Vivre sa vie, by J.-L. Godard (1962)


  • I think it is a good thing that the Way of the 2000s, as a “Jean 1995. L’ege modern du cinéma fran’ais. Paris: Flammarion.
  • Millen, Richard. 1965. “Magritte: Ideas and Images.” In In a Radio Interview with Jean Neyens. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
  • Ortega y Gasset, José. 2016. Man and People (1954). Milan: Mimesis.

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