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vertov
Jun 14, 2003

hello

One of Godard’s philosophies regarding filmmaking is “a movie is a movie,” and that sentiment is definitely at work in his first feature, Breathless. Godard uses innovative formal techniques to explore cinematic time and space, at once embracing the classical cinema of Hollywood, and also breaking all of the rules to construct a new film language. Accompanied by brilliant cinematographer Raoul Coutard, Godard creates a fun mix of genres and a loving portrait of the city of Paris.

Probably the most famous sequence of the film (and possibly the entire new wave movement) is a simple drive in a stolen car. Belmondo is driving Seberg to meet a reporter, and begins to rattle off what he admires about her body (lovely neck, lovely thighs etc). Throughout this tirade, Godard employs seemingly arbitrary cuts in the film (called jump cuts), which mirror the fragmentation of Seberg’s body by Belmondo. These cuts also play with the notion of continuity within the film, as it switches from one location to another in the blink of an eye. Though this technique is often distracting (intentionally so), the narrative of the film is maintained throughout the sequence.

The performances by the two leads are both incredible, but unfortunately, a lot of the subtleties are lost for those who don’t understand French. Seberg plays an American student studying in Paris and working for a newspaper, and she speaks with a ridiculously poor accent, and mixes up “tu” and “vous” and other plays on the language (another favorite topic of Godard). Belmondo roams Paris imitating Humphrey Bogart, with great comedic energy and charisma. The film is decidedly amoral towards its characters, never judging them, which allows the audience to remain connected with them despite their many questionable actions. French director Jean-Pierre Melville makes a hilarious cameo as a famous author, who is interviewed by Seberg’s character and others at a press conference, where he dispenses rubbish philosophy to his adoring crowd. Godard himself makes a brief appearance as the informant who clues the police in to Belmondo’s location.

Breathless has a world-consciousness to it, constantly referencing other works of art, from film, literature and paiting. Movie posters adorn the walls of the city, and posters of Picasso and Renoir fill Seberg’s apartment. Seberg reads from Faulkner to the indifferent Belmondo (during a difficult, but meticulously crafted segment where they just lie around her apartment), trying to appear cultured. Even the magazine Godard writes for, Cahiers du Cinema makes an appearance. This catalogue of pop and high culture injects the film with a level of cosmopolitan sophistication, but also reveals Godard’s self-depreciating humor, as he makes fun of is own pretentiousness (also at work in Pierrot le Fou).

Breathless can be a difficult film to watch, depending on what you expect going in to it. Though it in many ways pays tribute to the great Hollywood films that came before it, the visibility of the filmmaking makes it an entirely different experience. It is one of Godard’s most accessible films though, and along with Contempt, is a good place to start for budding enthusiasts of the cinema.

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