Review #51- Breathless

Breathless

After stealing a car and shooting a police officer, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) runs to his American girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg), and shacks up with her in Paris. While cops work overtime to catch the murderer and bring him to justice, Michel tries getting a loan so that he and Patricia can flee to Italy. As detectives begin closing in, Michels main concern is attempting to seduce his girlfriend. He is emotionally attached to her, but Patricias independent nature is an obstacle which he relentlessly tries vanquishing, trying to get her to sleep with him.

Jean-Luc Godards debut film, Breathless, is considered one of the finest and most influential films of the French New Wave, and rightfully so. Out of any movie from 1960 that I have seen, it feels the most modern. Godard uses the medium of film to its full potential by implementing many cinematic techniques into his picture such as cross-cutting, voice over, and camera zooms. Take the opening scene, for instance, which shows Michel being chased by the cop that he ends up shooting. The lead character hilariously narrates most of the scene, turning a grim situation into a darkly comedic one. By taking the viewer into the antiheros mind, the sequence ends up being existential, but uproariously funny at the same time. Oh, and this is all done via hand-held camera on a low budget.

Godard also wrote the screenplay, based on a scenario by none other than Francois Truffaut (another key player in the New Wave movement). Much of the dialogue is improvised, and flows very smoothly. A long scene between Michel and Patricia in the latters apartment simply consists of talking while the former tries seducing her. Instead of being repetitive and feeling dragged out, the spontaneity of the conversation makes the scene funny, and sheds light onto each characters motivations and traits.

The two leads are wonderful here. Belmondo defines cool with his sunglasses and Humphrey Bogart persona. Seberg plays the female counterpart with a wavering sense of independence and a flirty nature. She is a delight to watch, whether frustrating Michel or playing along with him. The pair has wonderful on-screen chemistry, which serves as a nice addition to (or maybe its the cause of) the seemingly effortless conversational scenes.

With Breathless, Godard has shaped a fairly basic story into a highly entertaining, funny picture. It is a prime example of style helping out a film, as the rapid jump-cuts help create its frenetic pace. The acting, dialogue, and excellent direction harmonize, creating a finely tuned, expertly crafted movie. So much of its success relies upon the leads chemistry, making Belmondo and Seberg excellent casting choices. Just a year after Truffaut accomplished a similar feat, Godard made a debut film that blows many experienced directors movies out of the water. My only problem with it is that its running time is too short, as the film is so much fun to watch. It may be a cliche, but it is certainly true to say, Breathless will leave you breathless.

4 Stars