Godard's "Breathless" at 50
Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (1960) arrives at the Ritz/Bourse on Friday, the freshest film in town and the must-see (or must-re-see) film of the summer.
Impudent as the class clown and twice as attractive, this invigorating chase picture, Godard's feature debut, stars the Jean-Paul Belmondo as Michel, an insouciant Paris hood, and the enigmatic Jean Seberg as Patricia, a New York exchange student, doing the Franco-American mating dance on the Champs-Elysees -- as Presidents De Gaulle and Eisenhower summit nearby.
Michel aspires to be like the American outlaws he sees in Humphrey Bogart flicks; Patricia to be like the French intellectuals she reads of in The New York Herald Tribune (which she hawks on the boulevard). They are young, mercurial and in lust, and Godard's film positively vibrates from their beauty and erotic energy. The film, shot in the open air on the streets of Paris in Raoul Coutard's black-and-white cinematography, is crisp as a freshly-ironed shirt and urgent as taxi horn.
Based on an original story from Godard's colleague Francois Truffaut, Breathless combines the fatalistic romanticism of 1940s films with the lively urbanism of its time. The resonant result is both a tribute to old movies and an iconoclastic reinvention of film itself, with jump-cuts edgy as Belmondo and long tracking shots sinuous as Seberg. Breathless boldly draws the line of demarcation between classic cinema and modern movies. The most striking thing about it is that at 50, it still looks like the new kid on the block. It may not be Godard's best film (I'd nominate Contempt) but it is his most purely enjoyable. Interestingly, this gloss on Hollywood filmmaking, an early ripple of what would become the French New Wave, would forever after change Hollywood films influencing A Hard Day's Night, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate.
Your thoughts about Breathless? Godard? The French New Wave? Belmondo? Jean Seberg? (Seberg, an earthy actress and a suicide at 40, is one of Hollywood's saddest figures. The best biography of her is Mark Rappaport's From the Files of Jean Seberg.)