“Her gaze was the gaze of the New Wave. It will remain so forever […] Today, French cinema is an orphan. It loses one of its legends.”
That was the summation by Franck Reister, Culture Minister of France, on the impact of French New Wave icon, Anna Karina, who has died at the age of 79.
Reister’s words are nothing but accurate. Karina, former spouse – albeit tumultuously – of New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard, captivated audiences with her performances in the likes of Alphaville, Band of Outsiders and perhaps most notably, A Woman Is a Woman, for which she garnered a number of Best Actress accolades.
With Godard, she was not just an actress, but a muse. Seldom off screen in their collaborations, she became the fixation for the auteur’s gaze, and by proxy, a household name in the New Wave scene. She even worked with alongside Agnes Varda, who also passed away earlier this year.
Karina’s talents expanded to more than just acting, however. Arriving in Paris as Hanne Karin Bayer in 1958, the Danish-born Karina modeled for the likes of Coco Chanel and Elle, with Chanel encouraging Karina to change her name to one that could be easily remembered. She also recorded soap adverts, which is said to be where Godard first discovered her while he was casting for the film Breathless.
She performed and recorded songs with Serge Gainsbourg and cemented herself as a bulwark of French youth and culture, releasing tracks as Roller Girl in 1967. Moreover, she also took up the director’s chair herself, writing, directing and starring in the now-cult romance Vivre Ensemble and road-movie Victoria.
With the loss of Anna Karina, cinema loses an iconoclast of an entire genre. I recommend taking the time to absorb her performances, and enjoy her tremendous work.
Words by Jack Roberts