Breathless (1960)

Synopsis: A small-time thief steals a car and impulsively murders a motorcycle policeman. Wanted by the authorities, he reunites with a hip American journalism student and attempts to persuade her to run away with him to Italy.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: 

Who chose it: Brent:

Why I chose it: I had heard stories of the unique “jumpy” editing style employed in this film and wanted to take it in since I hadn’t really seen a film that’s used it to this level before. I also had heard of the influence this film had on cinema and wanted to see it for myself.

Leah’s Review:

“After all…I’m an asshole.”

This is the first line in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” and it somehow encompasses the feeling of the entire film in a simple sentence. It is spoken by the film’s central character, Michel who we learn (in addition to being an asshole in general) is a thief and a man on the run. We watch him as he steals cars and dodges the police, all the while doing so with a careless and cocky attitude. He narrates every one of his thoughts out loud. Is he talking to himself? He occasionally glances at the camera as he speaks- could he be talking to the audience? It does feel as though we are along for the ride.

Eventually Michel runs into an old flame, Patricia, an American and aspiring journalist. He spends part of the movie trying to convince her to run away to Italy with him- and the other part of it trying to convince her to sleep with him. Patricia isn’t interested but she doesn’t spurn his advances either. The two carry on in a playful, back-and-forth banter for the remainder of the film often to the amusement (and sometimes frustration) of the audience. Michel is convinced they should be together, but Patricia is uncertain about her feelings for him. Things get even more interesting when the law finally catches up with Michel- forcing Patricia to make a decision that may ultimately lead to the relationship’s demise.

“Breathless” is off-beat by today’s standards to say the least. And yet, for it’s time, it’s also revolutionary. Famous for making the “jump-cut” technique popular, the way it’s shot is unlike any movie of its time. But its influence (and the influence of other similar films part of the “French New Wave”) on movies made after 1960 all the way to present day is undeniable. Stylish, fast-moving, and ambiguous- it doesn’t tell the audience what to think, only to keep watching.

A recurring comment I’ve seen regarding “Breathless” is Godard’s seemingly obvious influence on more current directors such as Quentin Tarantino. Many of Tarantino’s films feature terrible people doing terrible things. Tarantino’s villains aren’t condemned, but rather almost praised for how cool they are. It’s what keeps us watching despite their apparent immorality. The same can be said for ‘Breathless”. Michel is not a good person. He does bad things. Really bad things. But we can’t help but admire how cool he looks doing it.

I was surprised by just how much I liked “Breathless”. It’s fresh, edgy, and fun- especially in it’s time context. It’s kind of a crime movie and romantic comedy all-in-one; but without being awkward or cliche. The characters are interesting, and the pacing and fast-moving dialogue kept me on my toes and left me wanting more.

Brent’s Review:

I will make two confessions before responding to Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless.” First, I shall confess to being quite tired while watching the film and, yes, I briefly dozed off — it really was the only free day that (busy) week to watch the movie! Second, I shall confess to reading Roger Ebert’s review of this film before writing my own, which will hang heavily over my own response.

“Breathless” tells a romance story between a wannabe street tough, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), and his American lover, Patricia (Jean Seberg). The plot loosely hangs on a chase narrative: Michel steals a car, finds a gun in the glove compartment, and kills a police officer pursuing him. Why? In his words, “[he’s] an asshole.”

Michel flees to Paris, where he meets up with Patricia. They spend the day together, oscillating between flights of romantic fancy and laying low while Michel keeps trying to track down a man who owes him money. The film wanders lazily through the narrative, which reminded me of countless films featuring aimless youth (“Dazed and Confused” in particular). This is a day in Michel’s life; he happens to spend it with Patricia.

The centerpiece of the film is a lengthy sequence where Michel and Patricia spend the day in her flat. They talk, listen to music, and make love. This sequence runs nearly uninterrupted, which is notable for a film famed for its frenetic editing style. The editing of “Breathless” is one of cinema’s famed stories: the original print came in about 30 minutes too long, so the director opted to remove any parts of scenes he thought boring instead of removing entire scenes, creating a unique “jumpy” effect during dialogue. That this lengthy sequence in Patricia’s flat remains almost entirely in tact is the utmost compliment to what we’re witnessing: Godard is telling us to slow down and admire their romance.

Michel is an anti-hero. He idolizes Humphrey Bogart, mimicking him by donning a fedora, smoking countless cigarettes, and rubbing his lips. Michel, in many ways, is the grandfather of countless future anti-hero protagonists — Scarface, Henry Hill, and nearly every character Tarantino wrote into his first two features. He is effortlessly cool, but he is a superficial protagonist — he clearly stands for nothing but himself.

I’ve read “Breathless” marks the beginning of the French New Wave cinematic movement, which favored smaller stories and stripped-down aesthetics in response to more classical films of the era (there is a long shot in a bank, which was achieved by the director holding a shoulder-mounted camera and being pushed on a wheelchair). The impact of this film reverberates through cinema more than fifty years after its release. It has ample amounts of attitude and style. Watching “Breathless,” I couldn’t help recalling countless low-budget breakthroughs I’d seen: “Clerks,” “Moonlight,” and “Reservoir Dogs” to name a few.

“Breathless” is undeniably influential, but I will need a repeat viewing to fully appreciate it — and given its influence on other films I’ve loved, “Breathless” demands another visit.

Up next: We’re in need of a good laugh and what better way to accomplish that than to watch a Mel Brooks movie? This week, we’ll be watching his 1974 hit “Young Frankenstein” staring the late Gene Wilder. I can feel my sides splitting already.

Peace out, kids.


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