“Breathless” (1960)

Directed by Jean-Luc Goddard
Production Company: Les Films Georges de Beauregard-S.N.C.
Language: French
Length: 90 minutes

  • Archival interviews with director Jean-Luc Godard, and actors Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, and Jean-Pierre Melville
  • New video interviews with Raoul Coutard, assistant director Pierre Rissient, and filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker
  • New video essays: filmmaker and critic Mark Rappaport’s Jean Seberg and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum’s “Breathless” as Film Criticism
  • Chambre 12, Hotel de suede, an eighty-minute French documentary about the making of Breathless, with members of the cast and crew
  • Charlotte et son Jules, a 1959 short film by Godard, starring Belmondo
  • French theatrical trailer

The most interesting thing about the French New Wave movement, to me, was that it was probably the first movement of filmmakers who made films simply because they loved movies so much. It’s really the first movement of second-hand filmmakers who didn’t learn how to make movies by going to schools. The French directors learned how to make movies by watching movies. Many of these directors were also critics for the great French magazine, Cahiers du cinema, and many of their first films are regarded as classics today. Jean-Luc Godard’s first film was the immortal “Breathless” (1960).
“Breathless” is the story of criminal Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), American journalist Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg) and their relationship. Still, there’s a lot more weaved into it. Michel is on the run after killing a cop at the beginning of the film and Patricia is having trouble deciding if she can really hang around this petty thief. It’s amazing where this film goes in just 90 minutes. What is also amazing is the entire sequence in that tiny hotel room. I remember when I first watched it, the whole sequence felt like torture because you spend nearly 25 minutes with these two people who never truly understand each other in this small, claustrophobic room. After a second viewing, though, it starts to click. This long discussion about what these two people want in life and what they hope for in the future has to happen in some small environment because otherwise, they’ll get distracted by something else! This is also something you’ll see in both characters, especially Michel. There’s that funny part where they’re riding in a car and Michel jumps out to run across the street to see what’s under a girl’s dress…then he runs back into the car as if nothing happened!
I really enjoyed this film a lot and I really do think it’s an important part of cinema. Godard practically single-handedly invented the ‘jump cut’ in this movie. Think of how important that is! In the early sequence where Michel is driving Patricia, instead of a short car ride where nothing goes on, Godard uses jump cuts to make a car ride more exciting and interesting to watch. It’s almost as important as Orson Welles’ showing of the passage of time in “Citizen Kane”, specifically when Kane’s marriage breaks down.
Criterion’s two-disc release is a fantastic set. On the first disc is another one of those neat ‘From the Archives’ compilations of television interviews from the time of the film’s release and the original French trailer. The second disc has a treasure trove of great stuff, including a lot of analysis of the film instead of technical ‘making-of’ material. Considering how the film itself is practically a critique on film, it’s a good idea for Criterion to pack the disc with comments by critics and filmmakers. Godard’s shot film “Charlotte et son Jules” (1959) is also included and is sort of a dry run for “Breathless”. It’s a funny little film with Belmondo and it’s great to see its inclusion. The art design of the package is, without a doubt, one of the most original packaging designs I’ve ever seen. It uses newsprint as a basis (Michel is never seen without a newspaper in the film) and this goes into even to the point of Criterion using newsprint for the 80 pages in the book.

The Conclusion: Of course, this is recommended. It’s a great film that never ceases to be entertaining. The only thing I wish was included was a commentary, but the bonus material on the second disc serves enough background information that it doesn’t seem that necessary.
I’ll add as the ultimate cliché: “Breathless” will always leave you…breathless.      

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