Face of New Wave no more

Anna Karina is best remembered for her work with Jean-Luc Godard

Anna Karina, the most prominent star of the French New Wave, passed away this weekend of a heart attack. She was 79.

Making her debut in 1961, she was active well into the first decade of the 21st century and married four times, but she is most cherished for the seven films she did with her first husband, the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard.

Born as Hanne Karin Bayer in a broken family in Denmark, she moved to Paris when she was 17 without knowing any French. 

There, she became a model. The stylist Coco Chanel gave her the name Anna Karina, keeping Tolstoy’s most famous heroine in mind.

Godard, who saw her in a Palmolive soap ad where she was covered to the neck with bubbles, approached her for a small role in his first film ‘Breathless’ (1960).

He told her she would have be nude in the shot. When she protested, he asked her why she couldn’t be nude in the movie when she was nude in the soap ad. “I was only nude in your imagination,” she told him before walking off and later telling her friends that she met a thug.

But soon, she was acting with him, having become his muse, creating films that American critics said were rewriting the grammar of cinema. They would create art house classics such as ‘Vivre sa vie’ (1962) and ‘Pierrot le fou’ (1965).

She played a variety of roles in his films, often boisterous ones, all with a school-girlish charm.

By 1966, Godard and Anna were separated, and by the late 60s, both started on career tangents that were far less noted than the work they had done in the 60s. But the decade made them perhaps the most iconic director-actress pair in cinema history, with the only possible competitors being Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman.

Godard and Anna had created scenes that were to be imitated by filmmakers ever since, the most famous homage being the John Travolta-Uma Thurman dance sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994).

But even after these many iterations, the original still feels very edgy.

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