Godard’s classic gets a restored print and new subtitles for this 40th anniversary re-release. “A Bout de Souffle” is perhaps the defining film of the French New Wave, the almost painfully cool style of filmmaking that broke rules with fragmented narratives, anti-heroes and lots of jump cuts–things that have now become mainstream.
It centers on a handsome young thug named Michel (Belmondo) who runs off to Paris to hide from the cops. Without any money or anywhere to stay, he charms his way back the life of an American student, Patricia (Seberg). But both are in for a few surprises; Michel is so much in love that he hardly notices the police inspector (Boulanger) closing in on him, and Patricia finds it hard to resist Michel’s affections, even as she begins to realise the truth about him.
The assurance and audacity of the filmmaking is still remarkable after 40 years. Godard simply threw out the handbook and did what he wanted. The result isn’t perfect–the story lurches and stalls, the low budget shows, the offbeat music’s sometimes distracting. And while it’s not as original as it must’ve been in 1960, it’s still a breath of fresh air when compared to most of the stodgy stuff out now. Belmondo is impossibly hip and magnetic, holding our sympathies no matter what awful thing Michel does next. Seberg is a complex and intriguing–fiercely intelligent and independent, even as Patricia gives in more and more to this charismatic rogue. And as it progresses to its unforgettable conclusion, Godard’s attention to nuance and detail makes this influential classic a must-see for any film lover.