“Because you speak to me in words, and I look at you with feelings.”—Anna Karina
If ever one actor, one face, could define a genre of cinema, it was Anna Karina. The eternal muse of iconic French director Jean-Luc Godard, Karina would star in a number of films that pioneered the French New Wave revolution. In all, Karina appeared in eight films directed by Godard, including My Life to Live (Vivre sa vie), Band of Outsiders (Bande à part) Pierrot le Fou, Alphaville and, of course, A Woman Is a Woman for which Karina won the Silver Bear Award for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival.
“How could I not be honoured?” Karina later told The Guardian about being described as Godard’s muse while reflecting on her career. “Maybe it’s too much, it sounds so pompous,” she adds. “But of course, I’m always very touched to hear people say that. Because Jean-Luc gave me a gift to play all of those parts.”
“It was all very exciting from the beginning,” she explained when reminiscing her first meeting with the director. “Of course, we have a great love story and all that, but we were so different. He was 10 years older than me. He was very strange. He would go away and come back three weeks later… It was difficult, and I was a young girl, not even 21—at the time, Godard was 30. I know he didn’t mean to hurt me, but he did. He was never there, he was never coming back, and I never knew where he was. He drove me a bit crazy.”
Karina, who passed away in 2019, aged 79, is widely regarded as the undisputed icon of 1960s cinema. Her signature look, which also turned her into a fashion symbol in her own right, triumphed a meteoric change in how we digest cinema’s visual aesthetics. “It was just like gifts all the time, when somebody gives you something very, very fantastic,” she once said when explaining the feeling of landing a new role with Godard.
“Also, it could be so difficult,” the actress continued. “I don’t look the same way in A Woman is a Woman as in My Life to Live or in Pierrot Le Fou. I am still very different every time. In Pierrot Le Fou, it’s a very different part. I don’t have the same kind of skin, haircut. All the actors, most of the time, would change their haircut, change their look. That was very interesting. I really liked that. But of course, it’s better to be the same all the time because then people remember you better, I guess. I really am very, very proud.”
She added: “We never thought the films would be so famous for so long. We were just happy to do things. It was more bohemian. We knew we were doing something we liked and it was not like everyone else. It was a happy world.”
Karina, and her utterly unique style, is regularly considered an iconic bastion of 1960s cinema, one that changed the way motion picture was approached, offering a deeply romantic and picturesque realism. “It’s the beautiful minds of this world that win over beautiful faces,” she once said, adding: “They win hearts by winning minds,” and it couldn’t be more fitting to her own story.
Watch Anna Karina’s guide to being mesmerising, below.