I wouldn't necessarily have presumed that Mark Thimijan's She Lives Her Life was inspired by Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre Sa Vie, an exceptional but somewhat under-appreciated film of Godard's from 1962. While I wouldn't have presumed, I'd have wondered aloud and likely would have found myself espousing such an opinion within the confines of this review.
This either means that I've become the pretentious movie snob that I'd sworn I'd never be or, hopefully more likely, this means that Thimijan's imaginative yet disciplined re-telling of Godard's work captures the spirit and tone of Godard while maintaining a unique voice all its own.
That unique voice, I like to call her Karise, comes alive through Karis Yanike's performance as Betsy, a young woman whose story is told in twelve chapters, as it was in Godard's film, with Betsy working in a pawn shop by day and living her life by night.
She Lives Her Life isn't necessarily a masterpiece but, if we're being completely honest, neither was Godard's film. Instead, Vivre Sa Vie was a simple film made extraordinary through Godard's mesmerizing weaving together of visual poetry with deeply felt character development. In some ways, it has always felt to me like the French New Wave's version of a Bukowski poem. Yet, I suppose, that description is insulting both Bukowski and Godard.
While some may find it rather jarring just how well Thimijan captures Godard, the art of imaginative recreation is no simple task. I mean, seriously, has anyone watched Gus Van Sant's dreadfully boring, even for this diehard Van Sant fan, paint-by-number recreation of Psycho? It is no simple task to both remain faithful to an original film while giving a film its own declarative voice.
Thimijan, even with a few modest flaws considered, has very much done so with She Lives Her Life.
Karis Yanike, who is credited with co-writing the script alongside Thimijan, is clearly in touch with Thimijan's artistic vision for the film and naturally and honestly brings it to life. Yanike manages to maintain a sense of chemistry with every aspect of the film ranging from her fellow characters to Jacob Gardner's magnificent music and, finally, even to Thimijan's visually appealing lensing for the film. Yanike communicates not just with her words, for to do so would betray the film's Godard-like sensibilities. Yanike communicates the film's messages and intent with her body language, facial expressions, and the ways in which she fills the empty spaces.
Filmed in Lincoln, Nebraska on an incredibly modest production budget, She Lives Her Life does occasionally betray its tone yet, more often than note, Thimijan finds a way to work through the obvious limitations of working with a limited budget. There is a scene between Betsy and Hannah (Rachelle Brouillard) that beautifully captures both Godard's presence within the fabric of the film and, if I were to summarize it, exactly how Thimijan experiences a Godard film.
While Thimijan doesn't take She Lives Her Life down the precise road that Godard traveled, there is no question that he has captured Godard's essence as a filmmaker and within his intent for the film and for Betsy as an unforgettable symbol of a bleak yet honest feminine presence.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic