TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! As a young film student, the first time I watched Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, I immediately knew I was about to broaden my cinematic journey. I absorbed the feel and vibe of Paris through its fantastic use of setting. I was stripped of Hollywood’s starstruck perfection and presented with egocentric characters who roam around a city with style and haughtiness unaffected by the law-abiding citizens. They do what they please, when they want, and with incredible style. It was mesmerizing.
The black and white movie follows thug Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) as he steals and robs his way around Paris and out into the French countryside. He is a conniving character who believes himself to be a slick and attractive rogue, in the vein of Humphrey Bogart, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth at all times and a tip to his hat. While Michel’s thieving and cavorting with his female friends and others, he manages to take one of his stolen vehicles out and about, where he ends up killing a policeman on a motorcycle.
“…manages to take one of his stolen vehicles out and about, where he ends up killing a policeman…”
Finding his way back to Paris, he lurks around his journalist girlfriend’s flat. He tries to woo Patricia (Jean Seberg) to Italy but needs to conjure up the funds to do so. She has her own agenda, and as an American “trust funder” of sorts, she works for the New York Herald Tribune newspaper. When she learns about the murder investigation, she becomes unsure of Michel. Yet, she, too, has a rebellious nature, and their journey together will end the only way it can: with one last breath.
When Godard released Breathless, he changed cinema and rebelled against the traditional process. He made it messy with jump cuts, handheld camera positions, unusual close-up angles, ambient sound, jazz, all of which break up the cinematic storytelling technique with personal reflection. In the 21st century, this is what would be considered the norm for independent filmmaking. It is the essence of mise en cine using natural light, the set is wherever Godard was filming, and he used real sounds to present a natural environment. At times, you can see people in the background looking at the production team as they were shooting.
"…the pièce de résistance of the French New Wave."