July 2015 Blindspot: Breathless

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The Blindspot Series is a series of twelve posts spread throughout the year designed to offer bloggers a chance to catch up classic films we somehow may have missed. Started by The Matinee, here is my list of Blindspot films for 2015. Next up for July is Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless.

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I’m determined to get in the Blindspot post this month, and it looks like I’ll just barely make it! I promise I’m gonna circle back to the films I missed for March-June before school starts up again in September, but for now we have the lovely Breathless. I was too lazy to turn on the subtitles while watching it, so I decided to try an experiment with this one. Let’s see how much French you need to know to appreciate this seminal work of the French New Wave. (For those who don’t know, I took German in school and don’t really know any French.)

Turns out, not too much. Though I did tend to loose patience during the long dialogue scenes, I was able to reasonably figure out everything that was going on. I’m sure there was a bunch of more nuanced plot and character developments that I missed, but I checked in with the Wikipedia synopsis after the movie and I basically got it. I wasn’t sure if she was pregnant or not and didn’t realize it was Italy he was trying to escape to, but besides that I was able to figure out what was going on for the most part.

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Godard craftily advertises for himself!

It helps that Breathless has a fairly simple story. Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a small-time hood who idolizes Humphrey Bogart. One day, he steals a car and shoots a cop in the process. Now he is a fugitive on the run, hiding out in Paris with his American reporter girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg).

Now, when I think of French films, I think of really deep and confusing, heavily artistic films. Thankfully, Breathless was a light and enjoyable affair. This isn’t to say that’s it’s not artistic, not by any means, but I was glad that watching it wasn’t a dauntingly overwhelming experience to undertake. This may have been a product of seeing it without worrying about what anyone was saying, but I don’t think so, not entirely at least. The film just gives off this light and breezy air for the whole film. Even if the happiness and freedom Michel feels with his life of crime can’t last, it’s no less real in the moment.

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The cinematography really contributes to this feeling. Everything looks so soft, bright, and airey, and there is a lot of freeing handheld camera work. The camera is not tied down to anything, much like the characters in the film. There are a lot of lengthy takes that are quite impressive, but not ostentatious enough to get in the way of the experience of the film. Raoul Coutard was the cinematographer on the film, and he works with Godard again on later films as well. The closeups of Seberg are very beautiful.

She is actually probably my favorite part of this movie. I would say that she looks like Mia Farrow in the second half of Rosemary’s Baby, but of course that’s backwards because this came eight years before that film. She’s just so adorable! The camera definitely is a bit in love with her as well. Belmondo is pretty cool as well, and of course they are all so stylish. I was thinking while watching the film that these two were kind of hipsters before it was cool, ha ha! Speaking of American takeaways, I’m pretty sure Bonnie and Clyde, which was definitely influenced by the French New Wave and kind of has a similar story, steals the bit and the end where Michel wears the sunglasses with one lens popped out. That made me smile.

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When talking about the French New Wave, I always go back to editing. That seems to be the most influential thing from the movement as far as I can tell. In Breathless, this is mostly seen in a lot of jump cuts, and I think some are more successful than others. Sometimes they seem to be in there as mistakes, and others to actually show the passage of time within a scene. I could be entirely off base, but sometimes I just got feeling that some were more purposeful than others, but who knows. I liked them during the conversation scenes the most, because it seemed like Godard was just taking out the boring bits without smoothing them over. That way you know that there were boring bits, but you didn’t have to actually watch them.

All in all, I definitely enjoyed Breathless. It’s a fun and beautiful film, and I was really glad that this month’s Blindspot pick didn’t bog me down. So glad. I’m sure there’s a ton of deep stuff in here, which I will gladly get into on a rewatch with subtitles at some point. But for now, it was just nice to see the French New Wave kicking off with these two charming characters.

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“Don’t use the brakes. Cars are made to go, not to stop!”

Long story short: 3.5/4 stars

For Further Reading:

Criterion Collection essay 
Flixchatter review

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8 responses to “July 2015 Blindspot: Breathless

  1. The French New Wave may be my favorite “movement” in cinema’s history. So bold and experimental. Breathless is indeed key to the movement. I adore the film. Love getting the chance to read someone’s thoughts on it!

    • So far, I really like French New Wave characteristics finding their way into American films (like Bonnie and Clyde or All that Jazz, two of my favorite films of all time) more than I like the actual French New Wave. But I’m working on seeing more of the films and I did really like Breathless. I definitely want to watch it again someday, Godard’s style here was really a breath (ha ha) of fresh air!

        • Jules and Jim is the only other FNW film I’ve seen actually! After having seen Breathless, I feel like it’s a much better introduction to the FNW because the style isn’t as overwhelming. I remember being kind of confused by Jules and Jim, so I’m definitely planning on rewatching it.
          Have you ever seen Day for Night, that’s Truffaut right? I’ve been wondering if it’s good, just because I like the title.

          • Actually I haven’t seen Day for Night. It is indeed Truffaut and I think it won the Foreign Language Oscar.

            Definitely give Jules and Jim. The 400 Blows is my favorite. I also really like Godard’s Band of Outsiders. Well worth checking out.

  2. This was one of my blindspots this year too, and I enjoyed it. I think the fact that I’m obsessed w/ all things Paris thanks to my gorgeous new Parisian crush makes it all the more fun to watch for me. I’m curious to check out more French New Wave now.

    • Yeah I remember your review of it with the cinematographer standing on the roof! Yes, Paris is certainly a highlight of this film for sure. I’ve also been wanting to watch some more French New Wave films as well; I’ll probably watch The 400 Blows next, seeing as it’s Truffaut’s debut.

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