May 2015 Blindspot: Breathless – À bout de souffle (1960)

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One of the fun things about participating in this Blindspot series is to familiarize myself with certain genre or film movement. I actually picked this one rather randomly, not realizing this was part of the French New Wave, which happens to be the renowned French auteur Jean-Luc Godard‘s first feature film.

Films set in the City of Lights are always welcome in my book, and this one looks absolutely spectacular in black and white. I find myself paying more attention to the gorgeous city than reading the subtitles, but it seems the filmmaker seems deliberately more concerned more about the presentation than its narrative. Breathless is unabashedly stylish and cool – chock full of gorgeous scenery, good looking people and chic Parisian fashion.

Jean Seberg is simply adorable in her pixie cut and cat-like eyeliner whilst Jean-Paul Belmondo is all rebellious swagger. As the film’s antihero Michel Poiccard, he’s unscrupulous through and through, but definitely not without charm.

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A small time thief who nonchalantly kills a cop who pursues him, he just as casually hits a man and hides him in a bathroom stall without blinking an eyelid. Michel is one smooth bastard, yet somehow she gains the affection of Patricia Franchini, an American journalism student he’d met up in Nice a few weeks earlier. Their first meeting as she’s selling newspaper is infused with so much style. C’est magnifique!

There’s such a relaxed, leisurely tone to the movie that fits the message that celebrates freedom and independence. It’s apparent in their conversation and action of the leads how much they value their liberty. Some people might find this movie boring, especially the scene in Patricia’s flat where they spend 20+ minutes simply talking, and Michel trying to get under her skirt, but not much happens. Yet I’m quite enthralled by it all, there’s a certain charm in the forthright conversation between them despite its unabashed crudeness. Michel’s vulgarity and persistence in getting her to bed is contrasted by Patricia’s almost childlike innocence. She somehow remains unaffected by his mercurial mood and she has such a sweet way of rebuffing his advances.

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I find Michel’s utter ignorance and lack of culture quite hilarious.

Patricia: Do you know William Faulkner?
Michel: No. Who’s he? Have you slept with him?

I read later how this film became the quintessential film of the French New Wave, which is described in Wiki as having a documentary-style format, feature existential theme laden with irony and sarcasm. It’s clearly a risky move back then to create a film like this. Per IMDb trivia, its star “[Belmondo] was very surprised by the warm reception the film received. Immediately after production he was convinced it was so bad that he thought the film would never be released.” I don’t think even Godard or Truffaut would be so well-received, nor would they predict the film would become such a pop culture icon. I’ve been reading some articles on this that cite how influential Godard’s debut is even to this day.

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Visually the film is truly a work of art. Nearly every frame is like a postcard of Paris. It’s an amazing feat given the low budget. Apparently Godard couldn’t afford a dolly at the time, so he pushed cinematographer Raoul Coutard around in a wheelchair through many scenes of the film. I love how in many scenes I felt like I’m viewing the city through the eyes of the characters, strolling pass Paris landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysées and café terraces. I especially love the scenes as they’re driving, whether with the top down in a Cabriolet or inside a Taxi like this scene below:

I found this photo of Coutard filming on a rooftop and clearly that’s how we get the sweeping view of the magnificent city. There are also the intriguing hand-held shots roaming a room, street, elevator, etc. that gives us a sense of realism.

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I really enjoyed this one and even re-watched parts of it just before I published this review, the scene of the two leads in bed and the finale. Yes it’s perhaps simplistic narratively but Godard more than made up for it in style. This is one of those films I can see myself revisiting again later in the future and it’ll always make me reminisce about Paris. The jazzy music by Martial Solal complements it perfectly, sometimes the music even takes center stage, some scenes play out like a fashionable music video. It’s no surprise this movie’s been remade and Hollywoodized in 1983. I have no desire in seeing that one however, surely it could barely hold a candle to this original version.

Well, it’s been over a half a century since the film’s release and it’s only just my first intro into Godard’s work. I suppose better late than never, right? I’m curious to check out his other films, so if you have recommendations as to which ones I should watch next, do let me know!

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The Blind Spot series was originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee, and I was also inspired by Dan’s list at Public Transportation Snob.

2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


Have you seen Breathless? Well, what did YOU think?

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46 thoughts on “May 2015 Blindspot: Breathless – À bout de souffle (1960)

  1. This wasn’t just the first film by Godard that I saw but it was the film that introduced me to the French New Wave. It still feels very fresh whenever I re-watch it as I think it was quite ahead of its time and really said something new that needed to happen.

    1. So this is your first Godard film too? Yeah it still feels fresh even today, I’m curious to check out more French New Wave films now.

  2. I have seen it on a couple of occasions and I like it well enough. My French cinematic leanings have been more of a contemporary nature but it is clear the impact that this film, which ushered in the French New Wave had on these films. I think of them as authentically French; they are rather light and breezy I like to think.

    1. Hi Iba! I’m obsessed w/ anything French these days, thanks to my new crush. I’m glad I have this one on my Blindspot list, and it’s light & breezy like you said. There’s that leisure quality about it that makes it a fun watch.

  3. Wonderful review, Ruth. I learned a lot. Funny trivia about pushing Raoul Coutard in a wheelchair! I’d like to watch this one very much. Thanks for showcasing it 🙂

    1. I always love looking at IMDb trivia page for classic films. I think you’d enjoy this one Cindy, it has a mesmerizing quality about it.

  4. Great read Ruth 🙂 I’ve been meaning to watch this film for ages, now I have more motivation. Sounds like my kinda thing. Thanks for the little shot video there, makes me wanna watch it even more! I love the music in the background.

    cheers

    1. Hi Jordan, you should check it out! It’s fascinating to see just how influential this film is and it’s a fairly short & easy watch. The visual and music is fabulous!

  5. I’m a big fan of this film…it’s also the first Godard that I saw too. I’m no expert but if you like this one then I recommend Bande a Part. That has some odd moments that are fun.

  6. jackdeth72

    One of the best first glimpses of French New Wave!

    Out of the mainstream of the time. With Goddard occasionally just sitting back and letting scenes happen. And Jean-Paul Belmondo channeling his inner and external Bogart in grainy B&W,

    A grand example of the French taking on and improving on exported American B-Movies of the day. While introducing the “Quick Cut” in direction and lush, sometimes crowded, “Guerilla Style” cinematography,

    Excellent choice and critique, Ruth!

    1. Hi Kevin! I’m eager to check out more French New Wave film now. Belmondo’s character worshiped Bogart in his crime noir films, so yeah he was definitely channeling him. The camera work/cinematography was definitely ahead of its time, for French films anyway. Glad I finally saw a Godard film!!

      1. jackdeth72

        Hi, Ruth:

        I shan’t deny you another New Wave fix.

        Try the superb B&W shadowy, smoky and moody , ‘Elevator To The Gallows’ by Louis Malle. A neat disruption and messy consequences of an affair between an employee, his boss and his boss’s wife. With a riff filled soundtrack by Miles Davis.

  7. YASSS!!!!

    This was my first Godard. I purchased it on a whim and was hooked. It’s not my favorite film of his, but it started my love, and a recent rewatch has me swooning again. Everything you said is exactly why Godard is such an important filmmaker. So glad you liked this so much!

    See Band of Outsiders and Pierrot le Fou. Brilliant movies!

    1. Love your enthusiasm Drew! I might try to find this on Half Price Books, it’s something I could see myself watching repeatedly. Thanks for the recommendations, will check out those two movies!

  8. I can’t say I’m into French New Wave films, I had to watch a few of them back in my early years of film study. I don’t think I’ve seen this one though, I know it’s been talked about for years and it influenced a lot of famous filmmakers today. I prefer the other European new wave of films, the Italian filmmakers such Fellini, Leone and Antonioni.

    But now that I’m older, I might enjoy these French films, may have to see if any of them are on Bluray or Criterion.

    1. Hi Ted! I can’t even tell you which films are considered French New Wave, but it’s always interesting just as a film fan. I need to see more of Fellini’s work too, esp 8-1/2. Breathless is a Criterion Collection.

  9. I’ve checked this one out a while ago, but I never connected with it. Sure it is nicely shot, but emotionally it did nothing for me.

    1. It’s true, it’s not an emotionally gratifying film. But to me, it was fascinating to just listen to the dialog and see the interesting camera work. This film is very artistic and stylish.

  10. Lovely review Ruth. I saw this one for the first time a couple of years ago and I still find myself thinking about it. It looks beautiful and there are some absolutely wonderful scenes.

    1. Hello Natalie! The Paris scenery is absolutely striking, there’s something even more beguiling the fact that it’s in black and white.

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  12. Sorry, but I am not a fan of this movie. It looks great. I’ll give you that, but it feels so pointless. I just couldn’t connect to it, at all.

    1. Hey that’s totally all right Dell! It’s not en emotionally engaging film, but I sort of knew that from the get go so I wasn’t bummed by it. Visually though, it’s a treat!

  13. Godard was certainly hit or miss especially later in his career but this is an absolute gem – truly a favorite of mine. It captures so much of the rebel filmmaking style that made the movement so important. Good stuff Ruth.

    1. Hi there Keith! I should check out one of Godard’s later work sometime soon, just to compare to this first one he did. Glad to hear you’re a fan of this one.

  14. renlauoutil

    Le Mepris with Brigitte Bardots’s bottom is a glorious and sad film about filmmakers and the end of a love affair. Beautiful Italian landscape too.

    Viivre sa Vie on sex, politics and books is another Godard masterpiece.

    Recently watched Two in the Wave about Godard vs Truffaut. Very interesting.

    1. Hi there, welcome to FC! Ah yes miss Bardot… I actually have not seen a single film of hers. I’m intrigued by Two in the Wave, thanks for the tip!

    1. Hi Irene! The visuals are fantastic… it’s like getting a stylish tour to Paris, every frame is like a postcard. I’ll avoid the remake, even w/ young, hot Richard Gere!

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  16. Hello Khalid, welcome to FC! I can see how people didn’t warm up to this film at first, it’s quite slow and not much going on, but somehow I was quite captivated by the frank dialog and of course Paris looks sublime in this film.

  17. I only skimmed your review as this is my Blindspot for July! I don’t want to know too much about it before I watch it, but so far I’m pretty excited!
    I love the picture of the cinematographer on the ledge. That’s amazing. I would love to be able to do that and live to tell the tale!

    1. Hi Melissa! I’m glad I found that photo of the cinematographer, yeah that’s amazing that he’s up on the Paris rooftops. But the result of his work is amazing, it REALLY made me want to fly to Paris pronto! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  18. So glad you loved it, Ruth! It’s a classic. I’d recommend Pierrot le Fou and A Woman Is a Woman – both playful, enjoyable Godard flicks.

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