Anna Karina

When Anna Karina died on December 14, so did the spirit of the French New Wave.

Born Hanne Karin Bayer in Denmark, Karina (Sept. 22, 1940-Dec. 14, 2019) modeled, acted, directed, wrote, and danced. Her career spans nearly five decades, but it is the seven films she made with husband Jean-Luc Godard that etched her name and visage in the history books. She was simultaneous his muse and conspirator, and the movies they created together breathed life into the French New Wave like few partnerships could.

The story is often told: Godard saw Karina in TV ad for soap and was enchanted. He then auditioned her for Breathless (1960), but the part required nudity. She declined, but hooked him. You were naked in the tub, he asked, referring to the ad. No, she countered, you just thought I was.

Godard hired her for his follow-up: Le petit soldat and A Woman is a Woman (both 1960). They were married in 1961, the same year Agnés Varda (who also passed away this year) casted the two of them in for a short film in Cleo From 5 to 7. In 1962, Karina made Vivre sa vie with Godard — arguably their greatest collaboration, pictured above — and 1964’s Band of Outsiders (below) showed that even though their love may have been fracturing, their chemistry on set wouldn’t. They divorced officially in 1965, though they continued working together: Pierrot le fou and Alphaville (both 1965) and Made in U.S.A. (1966).

Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune 16 times, John Ford cast John Wayne 10 times, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro 9 times. Yet, in the annuals of cinema history, few partnerships accomplished more and lasted longer than the seven movies with Karina in front of the camera and Godard behind. The ineffable spirit of Nouvelle Vague has slipped the surly bonds of earth.

Anna Karina in “Band of Outsiders” (1965) courtesy of Rialto Pictures

Le Petit soldat and Vivre sa vie are both available to stream on The Criterion Channel. A Woman is a Woman and Pierrot le fou are both available to rent on Amazon. Alphaville and Vivre sa vie are both available to stream via Kanopy.