Breathless/À bout de souffle (1960)

Breathless (1960)I finally gave in and watched one of the famous foreign films that I have heard so much about and not really understand or wanting to. Seeing such films as Breathless/À bout de souffle (1960) as purely arty-farty for the intellectuals who really understand cinema on another level. Maybe tonight I have taken another step in the direction of joining them. Or is this like Citizen Kane (1941) one of those greats that you sometimes just don’t get? I don’t think it falls into that category, it does have an elitism to it, that’s probably the language barrier that would prevent the average film watcher from even seeking it out. I’ve took my time as I thought it would be just going over my head until I took the plunge and bought a copy on DVD the other month. I have decided as a result to try more foreign films, learn more of the film language to inform my practice and my understanding of the medium. There are some films I want to see but know that it could be ages before I will encounter them. And now I have seen one of the great masters of cinema Jean-Luc Godard who will be forever remembered for the likes of Breathless. I may go back for more.

My first viewing of Breathless I was expecting very little, trying to be as open-minded as possible, in order to have a clear and fair perception of the film, reading none of the reviews etc that praise the hell out of this film. My review wont be doing that on this first viewing of the film, I will be seeing what was on the screen and trying to make sense of actually fairly straight-forward plot. I was expecting something plot-less and open-ended leaving you either alienated or embracing the film like a breath of fresh-air like you’ve never had before. It was quite the opposite or should I say somewhere in between. I’ve not been left in either state really, more intrigued by the editing of the film, the pacing and the dialogue.

We’re introduced to a wild young man who is already on the run from the law for whatever reason or another we don’t really know. What we do know is that he Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) like life in the fast lane. He’s a modern man who is ready for action on and off the road. We find him talking to himself or the audience, his thoughts in either monologue or direct to camera, engaging the audience in a conversation. Driving towards Paris where the action will ultimately take place.

I noticed early on that the action is almost none-stop, if there’s nothing much going on the camera is constantly moving, as if its itching to get going. The editing also shares this feeling, cutting sharply to speed thing up, reducing the breaks in motion, the boredom and monotony is cut out, we don’t need to see, so why show it. We are left instead with these abrupt cuts that jolt you slightly as we’re engaged in conversations that are really are of two lovers who are teasing each other.

Throw into the film the beautiful and unusual for her time Jean Seberg as Patricia Franchini coming from the Hollywood system to French New Wave where you can see her thrive, free from the standard roles of her home country to simply be a woman and all that goes with her sex. And sex is definitely part of the conversation in the film. Her body is the desire of Michel as he wants to sleep with her again. Doing anything short of begging for her to give in to his desire. Do you really for him though, it’s all he can think about when he’s not after money that he’s owed.

My only real criticism of the film could be the length, it could have been longer, maybe that was due to the editing. It moves so fast at times, the delivery of dialogue sometimes had me re-winding the film to just read the subtitles. Still these are only little niggles really. I did enjoy the film it was never really serious, there was a death of a policeman but you hardly think about with this couple on-screen as they play this game of will they-wont they which is the main dynamic of the film. They both ooze style that reflects the time which gives this film a timeless quality that only the French can really do. A battle of the sexes is played out in on the road and streets of Paris which happens today and all over the world.

When reality comes back to bite we see a terrible twist come, the police are back on Michel’s tail and the love that has been shared turns sour. The dream is gone, reality is here to stay and it hurts badly as justice and honesty come into the film. There is nowhere to hide captured in a few shots that stay with you, going for strong imagery that stays with you long after the film is over. This could the beginning of a new path that my viewing takes, more European films, the barrier is coming down..slowly.

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