Breathless

After watching the documentary Two in the Wave that I reviewed yesterday, I couldn’t get Godard and Truffaut out of my mind. I kept going back to their films in my mind and became overwhelmed by all the films of theirs that I hadn’t seen. I set out a new mission for myself. I have decided to watch all of Godard and Truffaut’s films in as complete of order as possible. But I think that the French New Wave is more than just Godard and Truffaut. It is Renais, Rohmer, Varda and Chabrol. Therefore if I am still alive and wanting to do this blog after I complete Godard and Truffaut’s filmographies, I would like to do theirs also. I will probably do Varda third because I have been wanting to watch all of her films for ages now and she is a great director on par with Godard and Truffaut.

I will have triumphs and failures. I will try to chronicle both in this blog. I do not know how this will take me or if I will be able to talk about a french new wave film every time that I post, but I will try my best. Trying is all I can do I suppose.

The first film in Godard’s filmography is Breathless (A bout de souffle). At least this was Godard’s first released film. Le Petit Soldat was completed while he was filming Breathless, but it was banned for three years, because it talked about the French involvement in Algeria in a negative way. This film stars the hunky Jean-Paul Belmondo (Michel) and the gorgeous Jean Seberg (Patricia).

It is about a man who is on the lam because he killed a cop. He returns to Paris in order to get money owed him and to see this girl and convince her to go to Italy with her.

Every time I see this film I like it more and more. It is a pretty straight forward thriller that could have been made in America during the forties, but it is made unique by various techniques that Godard uses. Of course this film is famous for the jump cuts and for Belmondo aping Humphrey Bogart, but what I like most is how much of a role that media plays in this film. She works for the New York Herald in Paris, so when we meet her she is pedaling their papers. Michel is constantly buying papers to check up on what the police are doing. The headline scroller is used several times in order to instill some suspense. Patricia turns on the radio in her apartment in order to listen to music and is interrupted by the station reconfiguring. She runs away from the cops and into a theater. In fact the theater helps her get away from the people chasing her. A metaphor perhaps?

My favorite scene has to be when Patricia finds Michel in her bed at the apartment. When I first saw this film over four years ago, I thought that the scene was overlong. But now I think it is perfect. It shows Michel’s ways of persuasion, Patricia’s confusion about what is going on around her and their burgeoning love for one another. Godard takes his time and it is appreciated this time by me, whereas in other viewings I was slightly impatient.

Another aspect of the film that I find interesting is the language barrier between Michel and Patricia. If you have ever had long conversations with people whose first language is not English and they did not grow up in the U.S.A. then you have probably experienced what goes on between them. Patricia can understand French and she speaks it well (better than me, at least) but she is not aware of the turn of phrases Michel uses in everyday language. She asks what things mean and Michel sometimes gives the right answer and sometimes it is the wrong one, but it is always an explanation on what is meant by this or that. At several points in the film, they are reduced to miming what they mean to each other and what they meant to say, because there is no other way.

At the beginning of the film, you are aware that Michel and Patricia are just characters acting out this scene or that scene as actors. However by the end of the film, they are human. When Michel finally gets caught and is running down the street in a weird panicky way, you feel for Patricia who follows him in her elegant Dior dress.

This film deserves all of the accolades that have put upon it and I would love to own a copy of it someday.

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