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Breathless (The Criterion Collection)

Jean-Paul Belmondo , Jean Seberg , Jean-Luc Godard    Unrated   DVD
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
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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 photography, 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

Special Features

Interviewed during the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, Jean-Luc Godard at age 30 was already a study in contrariness. His feature-directing debut Breathless was a hit and clearly a game changer for the art and practice of filmmaking. Yet the young auteur took scant satisfaction in that: "I hope I disappoint them"--audiences, that is--"so they don't trust me anymore." This interview appears on the Criterion Blu-ray, along with several others from that magic time. Jean Seberg, holding a daisy in her fingertips, seems bemused at the turns her stardom has taken in a mere three years. Jean-Paul Belmondo--smart, engaging, refreshingly levelheaded--lounges among neoclassical statuary and confides that from day to day during filming he had no idea what would happen next to his character Michel Poiccard. Then there's Jean-Pierre Melville, the veteran writer-director who plays the novelist Parvulesco in the movie and whose independent filmmaking triumphs made him an inspiration to the New Wave. Melville deadpans that he "was already an old man when the New Wave was born … a kind of big brother who gave them advice, which they mostly ignored. But that's what advice is for!"

Aside from Godard's 1959 short film "Charlotte et son Jules" and the French trailer for Breathless, the other Criterion extras are newer. Two Breathless collaborators, cinematographer Raoul Coutard and assistant director Pierre Rissient, recollect being in on the making of film history--although at the time they had doubts that the movie would be released. Rissient (who became a legendary producer and promoter) reckons that Godard "learned his style out of Breathless." Coutard's resourceful available-light camerawork revolutionized modern cinematography and made him a New Wave star in his own right. His training as a photojournalist had prepared him to work fast, on location, and on the cheap (he got "dolly shots" by filming from a wheelchair pushed by Godard). And he had the equanimity to cope when, after two hours' work, the director would close his notebook and say, "That's all for today--I'm out of ideas."

Three visual essays deepen appreciation of the film. Cinéma vérité pioneer D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back) discusses the overlap of documentary technique and narrative film in Godard's work, including Godard's description of Breathless as "a documentary about Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg." In "Breathless" as Criticism, film scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum positions the movie as a "critical manifesto on behalf of American genre cinema" and highlights Godard's penchant for quotations and interpolations from literature, painting, and especially movies--most famously, Belmondo aping Humphrey Bogart's signature rubbing of his lip. Mark Rappaport, maker of the 1995 feature From the Journals of Jean Seberg, contributes a new take on the actress's troubled life and career. He sees her Breathless character Patricia as a variation on Henry James's Daisy Miller: in Seberg's final, enigmatic close-up, "she's an open book and a riddle waiting to be solved."

Longest and most intriguing of the special features is Chambre 12, Hôtel du Suède, an 80-minute documentary from 1993. The titular chambre is the selfsame tiny hotel room where Godard filmed Breathless's 25-minute seduction scene. Xavier Villetard rents it for a week, as a base from which to explore key Breathless locations around Paris and interview as many surviving cast and crew members as he can meet. Godard remains a brusque voice on the telephone, but Claude Chabrol, billed as "technical consultant" on Breathless, talks genially about the "totally bogus" credits for himself and François Truffaut ("screenplay"); because they each already had a hit film to their credit, their nominal participation lent Godard cachet as he scrambled for backing. Belmondo, a silver lion by 1993, is still funny and frank; editor Cécile Decugis reminisces wryly about Godard's working methods. All good stuff, yet some of the choicest material is contributed by bit players in Godard's film and life. Liliane David, who played the casual girlfriend Michel robs, dishes about the diverse personalities in "the Cahiers gang," Godard's fellow critics-turned-filmmakers, and we learn that some of the outré names studding the movie's dialogue were borrowed from personal friends of the director. During a visit to the Swiss town that was Godard's home in the years before Breathless, we even get to meet one of them (he and Godard don't talk much anymore). As for Room 12 and the Hôtel du Suède, the whole place, literally a landmark in film history, was demolished the day after Villetard checked out. --Richard T. Jameson

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazon, Add a Sixth Star! March 16 2003
This is hands-down one of the best movies ever made. Just the opening seconds of Jean-Paul Belmondo smoking announces a whole new attitude towards youth and life that hits with the freshness of the Beatles. "Breathless" creates a world of love and motion and danger and art that's single-handedly responsible for at least half the clichés you have in your head this second about Paris. Truffaut's script is excellent, nearly every shot is original and revelatory, but what I loved most about the movie was the apparently random, documentary feel Godard gave to so many of the scenes: Belmondo with one lens missing from his glasses, the faces he and Jean Seberg make in the mirror, the Air France clerk sticking her tongue out at her boss, etc. How did Godard manage to be so stylish and truthful at the same time? This is a movie that never lets you forget it's a movie, telling a story in a way no novel or play ever could. "Citizen Kane" is the only other film I can think of that does so much with the medium. One for the ages.
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When I first saw Godard's Breathless, perhaps I had my expectactions high, or rather manipulated to be as such from reading other reviews, and I ended up thinking that while there was a flair for style and a rhythm that was a reminder of the jazzy feel in Cassavettes' Shadows, the characters, inparticular the lead, were too shallow, self-righteous, and all-too-vain for comfort - or perhaps too, well, French.
On a few more tries of the "groundbreaker of the French new-wave" (which I believe was at it's absolute best in Truffaut's 400 Blows, accessible to a wider audience), I see that Godard, as much as he probably loves his characters, he despises them as well, in a sense. It could even be suggested that Godard sees himself in the lead Belmondo's role, and if that's the case then Godard is practicing the old self-reflection trick (though the story is loosely based on a newspaper article, scripted by Truffaut himself). For those that can take such filmmaking, this is the treat of the week. And for film buffs it should be seen at least once to get an idea where most "affluent" independent filmmakers get their edge, and indeed its rhythm will give inspiration to struggling filmmakers. I might even see it again in several months to remind myself how inspired the jump cuts were that Godard used. But, I certainly don't think that it's among the greatest films ever.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Love It! April 23 2003
I first watched "Breathless" in a film class my Senior year in college and I was amazed by it. Although this film was made many years ago, I was blown away by the production techniques used. Some people in my film class thought the movie was stupid and made no sense, while others (including myself) found the beauty in it's ability not to stick to the norm and be compelling in a subtle way. In a time when continuity is extremely important in film, it was refreshing to see jump cuts that were made on purpose (or rather necessity since Godard had to cut the film down considerably from his original cut). Jean-Luc Godard is a true genius!
This film revolves around the character of Michel, a common hood, who gets mixed up in the murder of a police officer while trying to win over the heart of the woman he loves. The plot to the story is simple, but the outcome is exciting.
"Breathless" is definitely not for everyone. It makes you think about hidden messages, symbolism, etc. However, it is very enjoyable and entertaining. I would highly suggest this film. I think everyone should be exposed to a Jean-Luc Godard film at least once in his or her life! This is an excellent movie!
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"Breathless," Jean-Luc Godard's tribute to moviemaking itself and one of the seminal titles of the French New Wave, is, jump-cuts and all, a film that changed the way movies were made. It introduced audiences and critics alike to new voices in the cinema, to a newer and cheaper guerrilla-style film made on location and to the sort of movie aware of the fact that it was just a movie.
That said, though, this movie is a lot of just pure fun. In the leads, Jean-Paul Belmondo and the absolutely gorgeous Jean Seberg seem to inject their portrayals of young thief-and-killer Michel Poiccard and his indecisive American girlfriend Patricia with a sense of humor and joy. The couple they portray are given moments where they're not really pushing the action forward, where they're reveling in what it feels like to be young and in lust, if not love. The scenes where they're lying in bed just talking or riding together in a car and talking about Paris are perhaps the most delightful aspect of the film.
Even though the character of Michel is almost certainly doomed from the moment he steals a car and guns down a police officer, he has a lot of fun with his last days, wandering the streets, stealing from friends and trying to get Patricia to sleep with him. Patricia, likewise, is given moments of joy, despite worrying about her pregnancy and job, wondering if she should betray the man she loves to the police or run away with him to Rome.
That spirit, in addition to its technical wizardry and the passion of its makers, is what made the film different in 1960, and it's the spirit behind it that just makes "Breathless" fun Sunday-afternoon viewing now.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Among the best movies ever
This is a must for any cinema fan. A true avant-garde masterpiece. Strong performances and script, very urgent jazz and improvisation passion and energy. This is French New Wave. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Mathieu N.
1.0 out of 5 stars Slow moving crap
This movie is full of a bunch of slow moving character developments. There's a bunch of long dialogues between men and women that are very drab and superficial. Read more
Published on Feb. 20 2004 by Hippie Smell
2.0 out of 5 stars Of Historical Interest Only?
The reaction of someone who is not a film historian:
This is obviously not intended as a work of surrealism or Dada. Read more
Published on Jan. 25 2004 by D. Adler
4.0 out of 5 stars Breathless
Older movies are like Shakespeare. They are to be appreciated by all and enjoyed by few. BREATHLESS, while cutting-edge at the time, plays in today's world like any student film... Read more
Published on Sept. 7 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars I'm still waiting for it to take my breath away.
This film should have been directed by Francois Truffaut, who wrote it. A so-so movie with Belmondo being the bright spot is his portrayal, however the film never really lets the... Read more
Published on March 9 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars Mixture of Irritation and Delight
The situations in this movie are so boring, and the leading male character is so shallow -- even vacuous, that the edgy Godard cinema verite style is blunted. Read more
Published on Jan. 16 2003 by Zechristof
5.0 out of 5 stars First feature from Godard the Great
More than forty years later, it may be hard for modern audiences to understand how revolutionary Jean-Luc Godard and his Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) contemporaries really... Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2003 by "purplo"
5.0 out of 5 stars what do u know about godard?
one of the best films ever made, breathless will take your breath away. no need to say any more. but to all you people who pretend to know about godard and then complain that the... Read more
Published on Jan. 14 2003 by momo
3.0 out of 5 stars Irritating, but ...
This movie gets very irritating after a time. True, Jean Seberg is stunning in her portrayal of a young woman without roots whose survival instincts are finely honed. Read more
Published on Jan. 12 2003 by Zechristof
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