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The Night that Anna Karina Fell In Love with Jean-Luc Godard

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Apropos of absolutely nothing beyond the fact that this is pretty much film history's greatest story of a whirlwind romance between a director and his star, I present to you the story of how Jean-Luc Godard and actress Anna Karina first fell in love. It happened on the set of Godard's second feature, 1960's "Le Petit Soldat", which the brilliant but notoriously prickly auteur made in the wake of his epochal debut "Breathless." Godard had seen Karina doing some modeling work a few years earlier, and – after she rebuffed his offer to appear nude in "Breathless" – he was determined to have her star in his follow-up film despite the fact that she had never acted before. Godard, overbearingly clever but never coy, made his intentions clear the moment that Karina showed up on set.

Watch this great Criterion Collection video interview in which Karina discusses first meeting Godard.

Six years and seven films later, Karina and Godard would divorce as one of the cinema's most iconic couples, she the face of the French New Wave and he its blunt, wiry soul. It may seem tawdry to dwell on this stuff, but this too is the story of the film.

In this excerpt of an interview that Graham Fuller conducted with Karina (the entirety of which can be found in the wonderful book  "Projections 13: Women Film-makers on Film-making"), Karina tells all about the night when everything changed.

It happened while we were shooting the picture in Geneva. It was a strange love story from the beginning. I could see Jean-Luc was looking at me all the time, and I was looking at him too, all day long.  We were like animals. One night we were at this dinner in Lausanne. My boyfriend, who was a painter, was there too. And suddenly I felt something under the table – it was Jean-Luc’s hand. He gave me a piece of paper and then left to drive back to Geneva. I went into another room to see what he’d written.  It said, “I love you.  Rendezvous at midnight at the Café de la Prez.” And then my boyfriend came into the room and demanded to see the piece of paper, and he took my arm and grabbed it and read it.  He said, “You’re not going.” And I said, “I am.” And he said, “But you can’t do this to me.”  I said, “But I’m in love too, so I’m going.” But he still didn’t believe me. We drove back to Geneva and I started to pack my tiny suitcase.  He said, “Tell me you’re not going.” And I said, “I’ve been in love with him since I saw him the second time. And I can’t do anything about it.” It was like something electric. I walked there, and I remember my painter was running after me crying. I was, like, hypnotized – it never happened again to me in my life.

So I get to the Cafe de la Prez, and Jean-Luc was sitting there reading a paper, but I don’t think he was really reading it. I just stood there in front of him for what seemed like an hour but I guess was not more than thirty seconds. Suddenly he stopped reading and said,” Here you are. Shall we go?” So we went to his hotel. The next morning when I woke up he wasn’t there. I got very worried. I took a shower, and then he came back about an hour later with the dress I wore in the film - the white dress with flowers. And it was my size, perfect. It was like my wedding dress.

We carried on shooting the film, and, of course, my painter left. When the picture was finished, I went back to Paris with Jean-Luc, Michel Subor, who was the main actor, and Laszlo Szabo, who was also in the film, in Jean-Luc’s American car. We were all wearing dark glasses and we got stopped at the border – I guess they thought we were gangsters. When we arrived in Paris, Jean-Luc dropped the other two off and said to me, “Where are you going?”  I said, “I have to stay with you. You’re the only person I have in the world now.” And he said, “Oh my God.”

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