Anna Karina, What Lies Beneath
Never has an actress's private life fascinated me quite like Anna Karina. I think it's because she has an aura that posess both mystery and innocence. This is my third Anna post. I first posted about her relationship with Jean-Luc Godard, then I wrote about how they started their romance...
Jean-Luc Godard first saw Karina in a soap ad for Palmolive, in which she appeared in a bath up to her neck in soap bubbles. At the time he was in the middle of casting À bout de souffle (Breathless) and needed an actress to play the small role of one of Michel Poiccard’s ex-girlfriends. He sent her a telegram asking her to come to Georges de Beauregard’s office. When she appeared, she found the director waiting for her. He looked at her through his dark glasses and told her she had the job. "Mind you," he said, "you’ll have to take your clothes off." Anna took immediate offense and told him in no uncertain terms that she didn’t take her clothes off. Godard replied, "But I saw you in the soap ad." At this she lost her temper. "Are you mad? I was fully clothed in those ads, and the soapsuds went up to my neck. It was in your mind I was undressed." She then stormed out, slamming the door behind her.
In 1959, the persistent Godard sent her a second telegram: "Mademoiselle, this time it’s for the principle role." Anna was initially reluctant, but friends, including the actor Claude Brasseur, assured her that Godard, on the strength of press reports and the first private screenings of his debut film, was already the most talked about new director in town! At the audition, Godard looked her up and down and told her: "you’re right for the part. We’ll sign the contract tomorrow." Anna was shocked. When asked about the project, he told her it was a political film. "But I don’t know anything about politics," she said. "All you have to do is what I tell you," was his reply. Then Anna remembered that as a minor she could not sign a contract. "Well then, your mother can sign." Anna explained that her mother lived in Copenhagen and that they are not on good terms. Godard said they would get her on a plane and handed Anna the phone. She hadn’t spoken to her mother in a year and her mother put the phone down on her, but another phone call persuaded her, and the next day she arrived by plane. Another crisis was averted when France Soir, the most popular newspaper at the time, published some gossip that said Jean-Luc Godard had found his "amie" for his next film. When Anna read this, she was furious at the implication that she had won her role by becoming the director’s girlfriend. She rang the producer’s office in tears and told them, "I’m not going to do this film. I’m not a whore!" Godard rushed to Anna with fifty red roses, explaining that he had come up with the idea of advertising for the part in the trade paper, La Cinématheque Francaise. His advert had read: "Jean-Luc Godard who has just finished "Breathless" and who is in pre-production of "Le Petit Soldat" is looking for a young woman between 18 and 27 who will be both his actress (interprète) and his friend (amie)." Realising she had misinterpreted, Anna rejoined the production.
By the time they came to make their next film together, however, any enduring affection had been replaced by pain & bitterness. Loosely adapted from a novel by Lionel White titled Obsession, Pierrot le fou was Godard’s angry onscreen dramatization of what he saw as Karina’s betrayal. While filming, the couple could hardly talk to each other, and when they did it was in groans. During one exchange, Karina said, "What should I do?" and Godard said, "You have a mouth to talk with, don’t you?" Belmondo, the other star of the film, described them as "like a cobra and a mongoose, always glaring at each other." In spite of these difficulties, the film proved to be the best of all their collaborations, even though at the time it was a flop, and over time, become acknowledged as one of cinemas greatest most influential masterpieces. Did they know, at that time, that they were reinventing cinema? Did their ill-fated romance play a role in the mystique of their movies? Whatever it is, both Anna & Jean-Luc were rebels and innovators.