Remembering Anna Karina in one of her most notable non-Godard films, Jacques Rivette’s ‘The Nun’

Posted on December 19, 2019


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Anna Karina died last Saturday. That the star was most famous for her work with one particular French New Wave filmmaker was evident from the obituaries. Here’s Agence France-Presse: “Karina was best known for the string of films she made with Jean-Luc Godard, including A Woman Is a Woman and Pierrot le Fou”. Here’s the first paragraph of the New York Times tribute: “Anna Karina, the Danish-born actress who became a symbol of the French New Wave – or Nouvelle Vague – in Jean Luc Godard’s 1960s films, died on Saturday in Paris. She was 79.” This is true to an extent. Think of Karina, and you think of those Godard movies: Pierrot le fou, A Woman is a Woman, Vivre Sa Vie. They were married for a while. They made seven features together.

But there were other films, too – most notably Jacques Rivette’s The Nun, based on a novel by Denis Diderot. It’s a horrifying premise. In the 18th century, many bourgeois and aristocrats – for a boarding fee – shut their girls up in convents until they wed. Diderot took inspiration from real characters: Suzanne Simonin, the nun played by Anna Karina, is based on Marguerite Delamarre, who was sent to a convent at the age of three. In 1752, she appealed against her forced orders. She lost, and remained cloistered until her death in the Abbey of Longchamp.

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