Reviews

Breathless

3

One small edit, one giant leap forward...

"The future," gushes rebellious punk Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) to his American squeeze Patricia (Jean Seberg). “I wanna know the future. Don’t you?” Firebrand filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard was in the future business.

As a critic, he demolished traditional thinking with his worship of Hawks and Hitchcock. Now, the first-time director was intent on rebuilding cinema in a new image.

The film’s seismic impact is discussed by heavyweight disciples (Friedkin, Schrader, De Palma) on the gorgeous-looking Blu-ray’s ace new doc Made In USA.

Standard-def, by contrast, offers a tribute from mag editor Jefferson Hack and a spoof short in which My Family’s Kris Marshall lives life à la Belmondo.

Curious extras to celebrate the defining film of the French New Wave, but these seemingly random fragments evoke the film’s hit-and-run, gasping-for-air excitement.

Forget Francois Truffaut’s Souffle-light plot, in which cop-killer Belmondo hangs out with Seberg while planning his escape. The greatness lies in Godard’s deconstruction of received wisdom.

The hero is a Bogart fanboy acting out gangster fantasies, cinema’s first postmodern ‘character’. Guerrilla DoP Raoul Coutard races down rues with only a lightweight camera and a gift for spontaneity.

Editor Cécile Decugis, ordered to lose an hour from the rough cut, intuitively chops individual frames rather than entire scenes: the insolent, continuity-defying jump cut.

Historically important stuff, for sure, but what gives Breathless its undimmed vitality is that Godard’s rule-breaking retains the reckless belief that made jaws plummet 50 years ago.

As Godard explains in a 1965 interview included here, “We Europeans have movies in our head; Americans have movies in their blood.”

Breathless bridges the gap with French sex (the plot stops for a half hour of flirty pillow talk) and American violence, perpetually shaken by the jazzy rhythms of Godard’s assault on convention. The result oozes style and attitude.

It’s still a fashionista’s dream thanks to Seberg’s urchin crop and the scruffy-yet-studied way Belmondo wears his tie. As Coutard’s camera tracks with them along Les Champs Elysees, the romance of late-’50s Paris is palpable.

If nothing else, the film is a valuable primer in boho chic. Coutard insisted that the film’s technique was simply the result of a restricted budget. Yet cost-cutting alone can’t explain why the film’s DNA reoccurs in everything made since.

No Belmondo, no De Niro. No Seberg, no Amelie. Without Godard, Tarantino’s in-jokes would be deleted scenes. Had the jump cut never been invented, Inception would remain a dream. The future? We’re living in it.

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