The movie that heralded the French New Wave movement, this lean and exciting 1959 film directed by Jean-Luc Godard (A Woman Is a Woman, Weekend) broke new ground not only in its unorthodox use of editing and hand-held phot... more »ography, but in its unflinching and nonjudgmental portrayal of amoral youth. Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg play two young lovers on the run from the law after Belmondo kills a cop and steals a car. Soon they are on an odyssey through the streets of Paris searching for some money he is owed so that he and his American girlfriend can escape to Italy. As a chase picture it features some startling photography on the streets of Paris, but as a romance it defies expectations, existing as part tragedy and part Bonnie and Clyde crime movie. The result is a wholly original film experience. Inspiring not only a remake starring Richard Gere but numerous films and television series, Breathless is an essential part of motion picture history. --Robert Lane« less
Essential French Cinema: Godard's 'A Bout de Souffle.'
G. Merritt | Boulder, CO | 09/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a French New Wave director, Jean-Luc Godard (1930) was at the head of his class. Drawing from politics, film history, French intellectualism, existential and Marxist philosophy, Godard's radical films challenged the conventions of Hollywood cinema and influenced French cinema. Breathless (1960) is among his most accessible films. With all the energy of a 1940s' American gangster B-movie, it tells the simple story of Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a French petty street thief, who steals a car and kills a policeman, while at the same time pursuing a naive American girl Patricia (Jean Seberg). She is wary of Michel's intentions and questions his lack of ambition, but proving that nice girls have a thing for bad boys, Patricia spends time with him in Paris before turning him in to the police. Using ragged editing techniques, handheld cameras, and a musical soundtrack that seems out of sync with the action, Godard succeeds at constantly reminding his audience that his film is an artificial reality having little to do with actual reality. Although the film's plot is thin, Breathless revolutionized French cinema. Of his films, Bande à part (also called Band of Outsiders - Criterion Collection) (1966) remains my Godard favorite and should not be missed.
The new dual-disc Criterion upgraded edition of Breathless includes a restored high-definition digital transfer (approved by director of photography Raoul Coutard), interviews with Godard, and actors Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, video essays: filmmaker and critic Mark Rappaport's "Jean Seberg" and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Breathless as Film Criticism," an eighty-minute French documentary about the making of Breathless, with members of the cast and crew, the French theatrical trailer, and a booklet featuring writings from Godard, film historian Dudley Andrew, Francois Truffaut's original film treatment, and Godard's scenario.
Revolutionary & Dynamic, "Breathless" Still Electrifies!!
Jana L. Perskie | New York, NY USA | 05/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer were film connoisseurs, who all worked as movie critics for the same magazine. Between the years 1958 to 1964, this group transitioned into filmmaking, and, along with other directors, such as Agnés Varda, Jean-Pierre Melville and Louis Malle, ushered in the French New Wave Movement, (Nouvelle Vague). Their background in film theory and criticism was a major factor in motivating these artists to create a bold new cinema.
Jean-Luc Godard's first feature, "Breathless," was released in 1960, introducing the New Wave and changing cinema forever. Godard used jump cuts, handheld cameras, zoom lenses and a new editing style to take the viewer places never ventured before. No artificial, glossy stage sets in this movie. Along with the protagonists, we travel up and down small side streets, into local bars and sidewalk cafes, across boulevards and, for inconsequential moments, brush the lives of passers-by, who have nothing to do with the screenplay, but always play a role in our daily comings and goings. The fragmented rhythm of modern life is translated here. Godard used sound in the same way, adding street noises, bits of conversations and music to add to the movie's authenticity and pace. This was indeed innovative at the time. And it still holds up. Watching "Breathless" forty-five years after its debut, 21st century technology does not detract from its dynamism or relevance in the slightest. In fact, with each viewing, I find the film every bit as exciting and poignant as I did the first time.
Jean-Paul Belmondo plays the feckless, foul-mouthed car thief, anti-hero and Humphrey Bogart fan, Michel Poiccard. Just a few minutes after the opening credits conclude, Michel's status changes from small-time hood to cop killer. His life's plans alter drastically as he becomes a hunted fugitive. Michel remains cool enough, however, to visit an old girlfriend and steal some money. Bogart would have been proud - not of the theft, but of the style. Michel spots gamine-like American, Patricia Franchini, (the lovely Jean Seberg), selling copies of the Herald Tribune on the Champs-Elysees, and pursues her, with roguish smiles and moody pouts. He curses her and moves off fast, though, when she gives him a hard time. He likes his women more enthusiastic. Instead of getting out of town fast, Michel hangs with fellow thugs and steals more cars.
Patricia is an enigmatic character, who occasionally startles with her observations and revelations. Twenty years-old, with the naive face of an angel, she seems to have no direction or goals in life. She studies at the Sorbonne and says she wants to write, but is oddly detached. She shuns commitment. She does occasional odd jobs for the newspaper, but appears to live in a dream world. Of course Patricia winds up with Michel and together they gallivant around the gorgeous streets of Paris, as if they haven't a care in the world. Patricia does have at least one problem, however - she might be pregnant. Together the couple attempts to collect on a debt to raise enough cash to escape to Italy.
Godard captures incredibly intimate moments between the two lovers, particularly in one lengthy, extremely realistic bedroom episode, filled with small talk, tenderness, petty cruelties, eroticism, mind games, childhood memories shared and loneliness. At the scene's end we have a better understanding of the self destructive individuals who make-up this twosome. A sense of burgeoning doom, which has hovered in the background all along, begins to increase here. Michel's bravado also escalates with the level of danger and, to his credit, he remains true to his idol, Bogart, to the end. The conclusion boggles the mind, at least it has always impacted me emotionally in a major way.
Belmondo is brilliant as the restless thief, in this, his first film role. He reminds me of a French James Dean. Seberg is convincing and fresh. This is a dynamic film, witty, fast-paced, romantic and disturbing. It has long been a favorite of mine. JANA"
Why you should buy this movie again
Jonathan E. Haynes | Berkeley, CA | 10/15/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In case the Criterion logo and the plethora of special features aren't enough to convince you that you should replace your old copy of this film, the fact that Raoul Coutard, the film's original DP, supervised the transfer should be the clincher. When you read early reviews of BREATHLESS, many of them talk about the radically disjointed quality of the image, the "mistakes" Godard purposely left in the final cut. It isn't just that these devices have been so thoroughly co-opted by pop culture that it is hard for us to notice them today - though this is also true; these effects (e.g., sun flares, faces in deep shadow, etc) have largely been "corrected" in previous video transfers. With Coutard involved in Criterion's issue, the film has undoubtedly been restored to some of its original, shocking, ragged beauty."
We still haven't caught our breath.
Kim Anehall | 10/24/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"*Breathless* is a cornerstone for any cineaste's video library. It's also MANDATORY for students of film. Don't argue. Live with it. And spare me the arguments like the ones I've read here about the movie being "dated". (PuhLEEZE.) I take out my red pen and write "prove?" in the margin. Just because everyone uses jump-cuts today doesn't mean *Breathless*, as an autonomous work of art, is dated. I've seen many new movies this year, and none of them have challenged me half as much as this old New Wave warhorse continues to do. Godard's putative "homage" to American gangster pictures challenges you right from the first frames, with the get-to-the-point editing and especially with the protagonist, Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), who within the first 5 minutes steals a car and kills a cop. Godard gives us a "hero" who is amoral, and, worst of all, not particularly bright. Quentin Tarantino, who borrowed mightily from this film, couldn't resist giving his criminals witty things to say about Pop Culture . . . but Belmondo's Poiccard has almost nothing to say, witty or otherwise, although he does jabber on at length about cars and pretty girls. There IS one telling moment wherein he proclaims that he prefers "nothing" to "grief", but despite that statement's basic affinity with the movie's overall existentialist mood, it's also just macho posturing. The triumph of the film, however, is not Belmondo or even the ground-breaking narrative style but Jean Seberg as Belmondo's American girlfriend. At first we're thinking that she's a pixie-like Audrey Hepburn type, what with her radically short haircut and insouciance. But she ain't no Sabrina: she's instead an all-too-familiar type of danger-cruising b---h blessed with that uncanny instinct of knowing when to jump ship when the going gets rough. Godard dares to be interested in these two, even spending an absurd half-hour with them as they loll around in bed, chatting about fornication and Faulkner (Belmondo: "Did you sleep with [Faulkner]?" Seberg: "Of course not!" Belmondo: "Then I'm not interested in him") during the film's middle section. This scene is the essence of Godard's accomplishment, and -- in cinematic terms -- remains very daring. But perhaps "daring" is a dated concept for today's movie-watchers. Perhaps they feel they've moved beyond films like this, and can thus be condescending about *Breathless* and other art-films from its era. I suspect these films are simply out of fashion, and today's audiences are not so much "jaded" as "complacent". [The DVD features commentary that contains nothing new for the veteran New Waver, but it may be of use for newbies.]"
Brilliant - Godard Broke New Ground For Cinema...
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 03/28/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Numerous reviews, essays, and books have dedicated much thought and contemplative work on Jean-Luc Godard's film Breathless. So where does one begin this review knowing that many have already dissected his film? Perhaps, we should try to understand why this film has received so much commotion.
Contemplating the society when Breathless was shot and comparing it with our current society might not be the best approach. It is also silly to think that a young audience will get all the references to older films, which Breathless intends to shove aside with a refreshing style. For example, jump cuts are something that today's youth have seen millions of times. If people watch MTV or any other television channel they will see the infamous jump cut in action in both recorded and live format. So why bother watching Breathless? Well, to fully appreciate Breathless the audience should watch films from France and the rest of the world that were made before, let's say in 1955. In this way the audience will build an idea of how stiff and structured films were without much visual surprise, which big production companies still depend on occasionally as they use them as a safety net in fear of having a bomb at the box office.
Breathless is actually a refreshing breath of a new wave that hit the world of the cinema in the 1960s. This fresh idea helped develop film and cinema into what it is today, and this is why Breathless is such an important film. The film broke the cinematic rules that were in use by the production companies. For example, Godard wrote his shooting script during his morning coffee while probably inhaling his nicotine fumes, scenes where not rehearsed and the idea of how to frame a shot came though the motion and the making of the film. Cinematography used handheld cameras a long time before it became common through lightweight cameras. Contempt was expressed in regards to meticulous lighting. The filmmakers tossed the old ways out through the window and began to create a new form of visual expression, which was only a natural progress for cinema just as art has advanced through history.
Breathless takes place in Paris where Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) seeks refuge in the masses after having killed a traffic policeman in a moment of fear. Wanted and hunted Michel takes short cuts to find money by stealing money from old girlfriends and trying to get back old debts, money Michel needs in order to leave the country. However, he has also made new acquaintance in Paris that infatuate him, the beautiful American Patricia Franchini, a Iowan girl by the name of Jean Seberg who sought refuge in France after a couple of box office bombs in United States. Michel seeks Patricia as a means to find shelter and possibly affection.
The chemistry between the Michel and Patricia generates a certain mystique, as Patricia always seems to be full of astonishing revelations. For example, she tells out of the blue that she is pregnant and that she requires her freedom. Michel on the other hand is an uncomplicated guy with a tough façade that he seems to borrow through his hero Humphrey Bogart--style he mimics by having a constant cigarette that is hanging of either one lip or squeezed in between. The character's differences could maybe be a result of the individual styles of acting, but also on Godard's rejuvenating style of directing. This mystique keeps lingering in the air through the cinematography and the performances of the actors.
Regardless of how the mystique is generated, the film provides a wonderful cinematic experience, as it is full of surprises and leaves the audience in a breathtaking, yet quirky visual journey. This further evolves on how Godard makes the film a little more interesting in a cerebral way in regards to cinema. For example, Godard efficiently uses the director Jean-Pierre Melville, to perform as a famous writer that Patricia interviews while Michel uses one of Melville's films, Bob le Flambeur (1955), as a reference of who would pay a debt. Ultimately, the audience has experienced an interesting cinematic expedition through Breathless, especially in a historical perspective. The story is not intricate, yet it is the simplicity that Godard employs that makes this film so wonderful."