French New Wave star Anna Karina has died. How to describe her accomplishment? It was an accomplishment of Persona. Her “persona” onscreen is so alive that it’s never just one thing: you think you understand what a moment IS, but it’s shifted too quickly into something else … it’s flitted onward, out of reach, and it all happens at the speed of thought. She was so alive onscreen she could take your breath away. “Alive” doesn’t mean just one thing, though. It doesn’t just look one way. Karina could be vivacious but could then be totally remote a second later. She could break your heart. She could draw you to her, while at the same time something in you might hold back, intimidated, frightened.
What can I say.
She was a great great movie star.
I use those words deliberately.
If you are familiar with my work, you know my fascination in stardom and Persona. Karina was in the Persona tradition. Which is not to say she did not transform.
Richard Brody, at The New Yorker wrote, in his article The Special Presence of Anna Karina:
Working with Godard, Karina identified not with characters but with herself, perhaps even more fully on camera than in private life—to create an enduring idea of herself. Karina didn’t become the characters she played; they became her. In this regard, her work with Godard (like that of other actors in his films) is close to the achievement of Joan Crawford, John Wayne, or other Hollywood icons whose limitations and artistry are inseparable.
This is very very important.
And the French filmmakers of the time recognized it, were inspired by it, wanted to point their camera at her. Jean-luc Godard wasn’t the only New Wave director inspired by her lightning-flashing-in-a-cloudy-sky changeability. (The two of them got married. I mean, they were the hippest most gorgeous couple on the planet).
Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina
She collaborated with Agnes Varda, appearing in a couple of shorts, as well as Cleo from 5 to 7. She worked with Jacques Rivette. Eric Rohmer. She was in Roger Vadim’s La Ronde! She was in Visconti’s The Stranger. She also directed.
But the 1960s … I mean:
A Woman Is a Woman.
Cleo from 5 to 7.
Vivre sa Vie.
Band of Outsiders.
Pierrot le Fou.
Le Petit Soldat.
Made in U.S.A..
This is a daunting list of titles.
In 2016, my pal Glenn Kenny interviewed Anna Karina over the phone for The New York Times:
Ms. Karina seems to regard her work with Mr. Godard with pride and affection. “It’s very touching, wherever I go, to see very young people come to the films, whether in Japan or South Korea or the United States or France,” she said. “The films feel like they are not old, or old fashioned; they still feel fresh and touch people. It’s a fantastic gift he gave to me.”
And to us.