Prot-a-gonist: The Night that Anna Karina Fell In Love with Jean-Luc Godard, 1960

Anna Karina with Jean-Luc Godard on their wedding day, March 1961
Photo by Agnès Varda

Anna Karina: That 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.

Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina in France around 1960

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.”

Extract taken from an interview with Anna Karina conducted by Graham Fuller in Projections 13:
Women Film-makers on Film-making, edited by Isabella Weibrecht, John Boorman and Walter
Donohue (Faber & Faber, 2004)

Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard on the set of "Le Petit Soldat" (1963)

Jean-Luc Godard first saw Karina in the Palmolive adverts in which she posed in bathtubs, 
during movie previews in a Monsavon pub. He was casting his debut feature film, Breathless 
(À bout de souffle, 1960), and offered her a small part in it, but she refused when he mentioned 
that there would be a nude scene. When Godard questioned her refusal, mentioning her apparent
 nudity in the Palmolive ads, she is said to have replied, "Are you mad? I was wearing a bathing 
suit in those ads—the soapsuds went up to my neck. It was in your mind that I was undressed."
 In the end, the character Godard reserved for Karina did not appear in the film. Godard offered 
her a role in The Little Soldier (Le Petit Soldat, not released until 1963) which concerns 
contentious French actions during the Algerian War. While working together on Le Petit 
Soldat, Karina and Godard began a relationship and married in 1961.

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