on 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.
on January 15, 2003
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 were. So many aspects of Godard's stylistic achievements, such as the unabashedly hand-held camera, have become so popular in music videos, TV, and the movies, that its use here may not seem notable. Film critic David Sterritt's commentary track does an excellent job of conveying the importance of this first feature-length Godard opus, and also emphasizes the many ways in which the director is having fun with his audience. As Sterritt demonstrates, Godard uses what he has enjoyed from his life as a lover of movies to deliver a filmgoing experience that contains the humor and action that he enjoys. Godard lingers on the lengthy interactions between Breathless' two young actors, allowing us all to savor their intimacy, and also uses Brechtian self-conscious techniques to encourage the viewer to stop and consider his filmic experience. Breathless is a great introduction to Godard, much more accessible to current American audiences than his later work. Watch the movie first, then watch it again with the excellent commentary track.
on October 24, 2002
*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.]
on July 29, 2002
The film that validated the French New Wave and consummated the now-ubiquitous cinéma vérité, "fly-on-the-wall" cinematography of modern independent film, Jean-Luc Godard's debut feature Breathless, as influential as it's obviously been (one need only gaze as far back as the extended bedroom scene of 2002's "Late Marriage" to catch a recognizable echo of its ingenuity), still remains as challenging today as it must have been in 1959. Stylistically, the jagged editing technique is what will always call the most attention to itself: Godard chose to snip out small pockets of celluloid almost arbitrarily between most of the action and dialogue, ostensibly to cut down the running time, but effectively to mimic the erratic, shallow attention span of his characters. In turn, the deliberateness of this device tends to distract from the essential simplicity of Godard's narrative, about a killer on the run (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who plots to flee the country with his Parisian lover (Jean Seberg). Revisiting this quaint work of artistry today reveals that Godard, in his vision of existentialist ennui and contemporary youth, has never really been intellectually surpassed in this subject matter by any subsequent film directors. For one matter, his picture's visual impudence alone renders most other cinéma vérité timid in comparison. It's one of the few films of its kind that actually dares to appear as clumsy as possible.
on February 21, 2002
If you don't see this with the proper context, it can be a bit of a headscratcher as to why this movie is important. It's a bit like watching "Birth of a Nation"; it's hard to get that sense of "D.W. Griffith was there FIRST", especially since the film's content is, to say the least, appalling.
So, in a nutshell: French film between the 40s and the 60s was largely focused on big, lavish literary adaptations. It was staid, it was pretty vapid in some respects artistically (although there are some very beautiful films from that time such as "Children of Paradise", available from the Criterion Collection), and it was safe for the unwashed masses, despite the artistic world surrounding it. You also have to remember that at the time, films weren't considered art by the academics of the day, they were "mere" entertainment.
A group of filmmakers decided to try and change this, and the country got swept up. "Breathless" was something totally new and different and furthermore, it made a mint at the box office (not a commonly mentioned fact, but part of the reason the New Wave took off was that the early films made money) If you followed the American indie scene in the mid-90s, it was much the same way; ANYBODY could get a movie made, and there were stunning surprise hits.
So that's why "Breathless" is so important and why so many people love it.
That said, as an actual movie, it's dated, both from the fact that its techniques have been ripped off so many times and the fact that in a simple technical straightforward sense, it wasn't that good a movie in the first place.
Visually, it is excellent. All those using DV camcorders now would do well to imitate Godard's use of handheld camerawork; it's obvious he meticulously planned every shot and didn't just improvise like a lot of them. He knows how to frame his shots and how to use camera motion. Actingwise, especially considering the script, it's also quite enjoyable.
If you don't want to read criticism of this film, stop reading; I give this three stars on the above merits plus one star for historical value.
In other respects, it's horrendous. "Breathless" never develops a point; the plot is ill considered and more often than not feels like an inept parody of American B-movies, not a tribute. Unlike the movies he's imitating, "Breathless" has no sense of urgency and offers us no reason to care about the characters, especially the lead, who's basically just another jerk. I'm unimpressed by Godard's constant film referencing or the placement of some of his jump cuts; they add nothing.
Part of this is, as I said, the fact that the film has been ripped off so many times that its techniques are no longer new. But just sit down with some work from Welles, Powell and Pressburger, Yasujiro Ozu, Bunuel, or Alfred Hitchock, watch that and then "Breathless", and you realize that they have something Godard doesn't; a care for the story in addition to the care for the images.
on November 19, 2001
Not exactly a thriller in the purest sense, film critic Jean-Luc Godard's first film "A Bout de Souffle" or "BREATHLESS" [...], originally released in 1961, not only ushered in the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) movement, but assured the director of a career and made an international star of Jean Paul Belmondo.
Seeing this clean, full-frame digital transfer today, one is jolted with the timeless quality of this assured filmed experiment that daringly broke the rules and locked in a new cinematic language, or at least a new dialect. A hand-held camera more often than not on the move, a black and white documentary feel of realism and natural lighting and locations (not sets), jump cuts, improvisational shots and long, loose, naturalistic conversations (about things other than the so-called plot) between Belmondo and co-star Jean Seberg as amoral lovers on the run."Breathless" suffered an anemic remake in 1983 with Richard Gere as a kind of amphetamine-crazed nut case in the Belmondo role.
The original title more accurately translates as "Out of Breath." And it is an exhilarating film to re-experience, In form and theme, this is an existential, anti-film film with numerous, sly film references within the movie frame, in images, props and in the sometimes intentionally "big movie music" moments to punch up the irony of a scene. This is a great film.
on October 5, 2001
Godard's "Breathless" (or "Out of Breath," the correct translation fo the title) still feels fresh and alive, especially when viewed in the dreary context of contemporary Hollywood cinema. It offers a sparklingly original alternative at every turn, from the pacing of its story to the engine that drives its loopy, intentionally sloppy plot. This is a picture that is alive on screen as you watch it, forcing you to draw yourself into the action rather than lay back and passively absorb it.
The film is one of the finest examples of New Wave cinema, from its jump cuts, its depiction of Parisian life, its incredibly sustained sequences of pure converstaion and dialogue, all of which dominate what is essentially a simple chase picture.
Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg are a perfect mix of classic and contemporary, both remaining timeless. Their relationship really unfolds in the film's central sequence, a near 25-minute conversation in Seberg's bedroom, in which such subjects as Faulkner and fornication are explored aptly. And that is what the film is known for----when was the last time a thriller contained the audacity to feel free to explore areas residing outside the genre?
Like "Pulp Fiction," one of its distant relatives, this is a film where plot and story are present but removed far into the background, while character, dialogue and visual texture are placed in the foreground. In its pristine black-and-white cinematography, its innovative use of camera movement and position, its raw, defined performances, and its tireless style and visual invention, "Breathless" is a great film and belongs in any serious film lover's video library.
on October 3, 2001
When it was made, this was clearly a 5 star film that broke new ground for films of the future. Accordingly, everyone will tell you that you must see this film, that it is absolutely superb. I can't go that far. Filmmakers after Godard have taken everything they learned from this film and others that followed in the French New Wave and gone beyond it. I do think any serious film fan should see it though. You will love seeing the young Belmondo and Seberg as the amoral lovers in the late '50s-early '60s who are fatally flawed with a penchant for crime. There are also wonderful street scenes of Paris from that era. The film was remade in America in 1983 starring Richard Gere, roundly panned as unworthy of the original, and ignored by the public. I recommend that you see both films together. I think many will be startled to discover how really good the 1983 version is and that it more than holds up to the original.
on June 5, 2003
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.
on 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!