Breathless: 50th Anniversary

Film, Romance
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Breathless: 50th Anniversary
You wonder what it must have been like to be 20 or 30 and to watch Godard’s ‘Breathless’ in 1960? Many, whatever their age, must have loathed the arrogant energy, recklessness and sheer, cocky youth of this pulpy tale of a fast-talking, chain-smoking, big-lipped wideboy (Jean-Paul Belmondo) on the run in Paris with a crop-haired American wannabe journalist (Jean Seberg) who sells copies of the Herald Tribune on the Champs-Élysées, wears gorgeous dresses, talks happily about her many lovers and has a sculpture of empty Lucky Strike packets spelling out ‘Pourquoi?’ on the wall of her tiny flat. What’s not to love, you think? What’s not to hate, many surely felt?

Fifty years later, ‘Breathless’ hasn’t entered its dotage yet: it remains a film whose know-it-all front you want to sneer at as much as you want to sigh at Seberg and Belmondo’s style and run along with their sexually frank chat and epigrams about life and love. That ‘Breathless’ still comes across as modern and confrontational is a sign of how much it’s been copied and how radical it was for a young French filmmaker to pour plaster containing his peculiar concerns about cinema, morality, romance and much else into the tatty mould of the Hollywood gangster B-movie.

There are times when it feels like Godard’s first film is designed to be loathed. Look carefully and you’ll spot Godard himself, 28 at the time and already an iconoclastic critic for Cahiers du Cinéma. He’s the guy in the suit we see snitching on murderous anti-hero Michel Poiccard, pointing him out to the police while pretending to read the paper outside the offices of France Soir. What a rat. But that’s Godard all over. He’s always been an uningratiating, utterly wilful filmmaker – an artist who invites us into his world and never the other way round.

To watch ‘Breathless’, a film by a young cinephile hopped up on movies and ideas of what they should be, is to walk into the bedroom of the coolest student in town and discover a giant pinboard of loves, hates, inspirations and thoughts, all moving at 24 frames per second. However, Godard makes the whole thing feel uncommonly speedy and disjointed by employing a frenetic package of stylistic tics: his actors’ walking and talking; his cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s handheld location shooting; Martial Solal’s ceaseless jazz score that moves and changes direction so fast it almost trips over itself; and his editors’ jump cuts, which were radical at the time but so common now that we barely notice them.

If you’ve never seen ‘Breathless’, see it now – but don’t expect an easy ride. If you haven’t seen it for ages, see it again and be surprised at the fresh reactions it provokes. Afterwards, you can talk about modernism, you can talk about Godard’s dismissal of the cinéma de papa, you can talk about the documentary flavour of the whole thing mixed with the corny template of the cheap noir… But there’s one element that it’s hard to deconstruct or sound intelligent about – the fact that it’s so damn cool.

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday June 25 2010
Duration: 90 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Screenwriter: Jean-Luc Godard
Cast: Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Paul Belmondo
Jean Seberg
Daniel Boulanger
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i think redolfo is referring to the first comment, its still the daddy of french cinema

i think redolfo is referring to the first comment, its still the daddy of french cinema

I'd heard about this film and knew I needed to see it. I was so excited to watch it in the beginning. Unfortunately the main male character was so repulsive, I became more and more disillusioned.I cannot imagine what depth I am supposed to examine in order to appreciate this film. I have met people a bit like him and hate them, their arrogance and inhumanity. I just can't understand why people think he is cool. If you want cool, look at Clint Eastwood or Donnie Darko. At least they have some heart some glimmer within them that makes their front acceptable. It is upsetting that the this film uses its admittedly impressive and groundbreaking film making techniques to emboss the story but s and as a cinephile I am so upset that people like this film. I hope that someone can show me the error of my ways and help me love this film but I just can't see how. Please, can someone help me understand this film, maybe I am missing something. That boy has nothing redeeming about him and there is nothing cool about him. He is a wanabee and has no heart. What is there to like about him. There is something Lord of the flies or Nazi about his inhumaity. Does the fact I hate this character so much mean this is a goof film ?