Anna Karina muse of Jean-Luc Godard
The name of Anna Karina is known, may be not as widespread as the name of Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren. However, this does not prevent her to be considered the queen of French cinema of the French New Wave. At the same time she was the muse of legendary filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. Anna Karina was one of the most fascinating women ever starred in a movie. Indeed, her recognizable bangs, black pencil penciled eyes and dark hair made this character art-house kind of antithesis of sexy blonde Brigitte Bardot.
Anna Karina was born in Copenhagen, 22 September 1940, her real name – Hannah Blark Karin Beier, later Coco Chanel suggested to change it to Anna Karina. Her childhood was not happy, she described her childhood as “terribly wanting to be loved”, and as a child she made numerous attempts to run away from home. So once turned up the opportunity, while still a teenager, she went to Paris. She had no money, she did not speak a word of French, but it was France that changed her life.
Hannah’s career began with the work of model – in a Paris cafe, she drew the attention of a woman, recruiting aspiring models. Soon Hannah participated in shows of Pierre Cardin. On one of the fashion shoot she met Coco Chanel, who recommended her to change the name if she wanted to be an actress. Thus was born Anna Karina.
However, the most important person in the life of Karina, in both personal and professional, was directed by Jean-Luc Godard. He saw his future muse, and in combination, the wife, in advertising soap Palmolive.
Extract taken from an interview with Anna Karina conducted by Graham Fuller in Projections 13: Women Film-makers on Film-making, edited by Isabella Weibrecht, John Boorman and Walter Donohue (Faber & Faber, 2004)
Graham Fuller: How did you meet Jean-Luc Godard?
Anna Karina: I did a lot of commercials for soaps and things like that. Jean-Luc saw a couple and asked me to come and see him because he was preparing Breathless. He said, “There’s a little part in the film. You have to take your clothes off.” I said, “I don’t want to.” And he said, “In that case, you don’t do the film.” That was fine by me and I left. Three months later he sent me a telegram saying there might be a part for me in another film. I showed it to my friends and said, “This guy wants to go to bed with me or something. I don’t want to go there.” They said, “You must be crazy. He just did a film called Breathless. It’s not out yet but everyone says it’s fantastic. You absolutely must go and see him.”
I went back to his office. He said he wanted me to do the part and that I should sign the contract the next day. I asked him what the film was about and he told me it was political. I said, “I could never do that. My French is not good enough and I know nothing about politics.” He said, “It doesn’t matter – you just have to do what I tell you to do.” And I said, “But do I have to take my clothes off?” And he said, “Not at all.” I told him that I couldn’t sign because I was underage. He said I should come back with my mother and that the production would fly her down from Copenhagen. I phoned her and said, “Mother, I’m going to star in a film in France, and it’s very important you come.” “In a film – you?” she said. “Yes, and it’s a political film, Mother.” She said, “You must be out of your mind. You have to go to the hospital to see if you’re ok.” And I said, “No, Mother, you have to take the plane tomorrow because if you don’t come they might change their mind!” She hung up because she didn’t believe it. I phoned back and swore on my grandad’s head it was for real – she knew he was the person I loved the most. So she took the plane and we signed the contract. That’s how I got into The Little Soldier.
Graham Fuller: How did you and Jean-Luc get together?
Anna Karina: That happened while we were shooting the film in Geneva. It was a strange love story from the beginning. I could see Jean-Luc was looking at me all the time, and I was looking at him too, all day long. We were like animals. One night we were at this dinner in Lausanne. My boyfriend, who was a painter, was there too. And suddenly I felt something under the table – it was Jean-Luc’s hand. He gave me a piece of paper and then left to drive back to Geneva. I went into another room to see what he’d written. It said, “I love you. Rendezvous at midnight at the Cafe de la Prez.” And then my boyfriend came into the room and demanded to see the piece of paper, and he took my arm and grabbed it and read it. He said, “You’re not going.” And I said, “I am.” And he said, “But you can’t do this to me.” I said, “But I’m in love too, so I’m going.” But he still didn’t believe me. We drove back to Geneva and I started to pack my tiny suitcase. He said, “Tell me you’re not going.” And I said, “I’ve been in love with him since I saw him the second time. And I can’t do anything about it.” It was like something electric. I walked there, and I remember my painter was running after me crying. I was, like, hypnotized – it never happened again to me in my life.
So I got to the Cafe de la Prez, and Jean-Luc was sitting there reading a paper, but I don’t think he was really reading it. I just stood there in front of him for what seemed like an hour but I guess was not more that thirty seconds. Suddenly he stopped reading and said,” Here you are. Shall we go?” So we went to his hotel. The next morning when I woke up he wasn’t there. I got very worried. I took a shower, and then he came back about an hour later with the dress I wore in the film – the white dress with flowers. And it was my size, perfect. It was like my wedding dress.
“We carried on shooting the film, and, of course, my painter left. When the film was finished, I went back to Paris with Jean-Luc, Michel Subor, who was the main actor, and Laszlo Szabo, who was also in the film, in Jean-Luc’s American car. We were all wearing dark glasses and we got stopped at the border – I guess they thought we were gangsters. When we arrived in Paris, Jean-Luc dropped the other two off and said to me, “Where are you going?” I said, “I have to stay with you. You’re the only person I have in the world now.” And he said, “Oh my God.” We took two rooms at the top of a hotel and he went to the cutting room every day”.
Graham Fuller: Were you aware that he was reinventing cinema?
Anna Karina: We knew we were doing something special. We’d take the films around Paris and out to the provinces and talk to the audiences after the screenings. And some people loved them and some people hated them. One day Jean-Luc and I were sitting in a cafe in Boulevard St Michel and we heard these two students talking about My Life to Live. One was screaming, “I love this film!” and the other one, who had his back to us, was saying, “I hate spending money on this kind of shit.” And Jean-Luc tapped him on the back, gave him ten francs and said, “OK, you didn’t like my film. Why don’t you go and see a film you really like?” The guy was very red-faced and apologetic.
The film “Une femme est une femme, 1961” (A Woman is a Woman) made Karina style icon and it was deservedly. In the film, Anna embodies style Jackie Kennedy.
Anna Karina truly cemented her status as a legend, after the confession expressed by Andy Warhol in 1974 who met personally with the actress.
Today she is a recognized star of the French New Wave, and since then, as a young girl she arrived in Paris, much has changed. Anna Karina is fluent in five languages, she has written four novels, after her divorce from Godard, was married three times and has had time to try her hand as a director (the film “Living Together”).
Marriage with Godard was for Anna not as successful as her film career, but after breaking up with him, she met another, no less legendary man – Serge Gainsbourg. Especially for her Ginsburg wrote the song «Roller girl», which came out on video in 1967. Much later, in 2008, the magazine Mean Magazine took this video as a basis for shooting with Kate Beckinsale, who has acted in the role of Anna Karina.
Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard formed a production company together, which ended in 1967. Luckily we have Vivre Sa Vie, Alphaville, Bande à Part, Une Femme Est une Femme, and other greats to remind us of their better years together.
After Godard, she was married to scriptwriter-actor Pierre Fabre (1968–1973), actor-director Daniel Duval (1978–1981) and director Dennis Berry (1982–1994).
“I think we’re always responsible for our actions. We’re free. I raise my hand – I’m responsible. I turn my head to the right – I’m responsible. I’m unhappy – I’m responsible. I smoke a cigarette – I’m responsible. I shut my eyes – I’m responsible. I forget that I’m responsible, but I am. I told you escape is a pipe dream. After all, everything is beautiful. You only have to take an interest in things, see their beauty. It’s true. After all, things are just what they are. A face is a face. Plates are plates. Men are men. And life…is life.” – Nana Kleinfrankenheim; played by Anna Karina.
Anna Karina muse of Jean-Luc Godard