The Muse Matters: The Love of Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard Onscreen

A new video traces the rise and fall of the French New Wave’s first couple.

When Anna Karina made her first film for Jean-Luc Godard, Le Petit Soldat, it was 1960, she was 20 years old, and a print and runway model the director had discovered through a series of Palmolive advertisements. He asked her if she wanted to have a small role in the film he was making at the time, Breathless; she turned him down when she learned the role would involve a nude scene. A year later he would return to her with a more chaste and respectful offer; she would accept. Six years, seven films, and a failed half-decade marriage between she and Godard later, Karina was a film icon, a figurehead of the French New Wave (as well as a muse to its foremost proponent), and a seasoned professional.

In many ways the stories within the films they made together reflect the actual story of Karina and Godard, which shifted from inspired to disillusioned over time and resulted in both partners developing thicker skins and deeper attachments to their respective passions. People are quick to tell you that Godard made Karina into what she became, but the reverse is true, as well: without Karina, Godard might never have plumbed the emotional depths he did the way he did, he might never have become the filmmaker and storyteller he did had this particular actress with her wiles and ways not been such an impactful part of his life onscreen and off.

In the following, exquisite video made by Joel Bocko for Fandor, the relationship between Karina and Godard is explained in seven montages, one for every film they made together: Le Petit Soldat, A Woman is a Woman, Vivre sa vie, Band of Outsiders, Alphaville, Pierrot le fou, and Made in USA. Each montage begins with Karina’s first appearance in the film and ends with her final, which provides us the opportunity to see how each picture contributed to her overall evolution from passive muse to active contributor.

Whatever separate ways they went, Karina and Godard’s paths began together and the territory they charted has left an indelible impression on cinema, proving perhaps once and for all that a love lost is truly better than a love never found.