Nearly 60 years ago, Jean-Luc Godard’s first film, “Breathless”, still looks innovative. It’s nothing more than a fugitive escape story in the style of “Bonnie and Clyde”, “Natural Born Killers”, or even “The End of the F***ing World“. The story is about Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a guy who seems obsesses with Humphrey Bogart, kills a policeman, tries to run away with an American girl, Patricia (Jean Seberg), and goes to Italy. Even though the premise itself is standard, what makes “Breathless” so famous and influential?
French New Wave, a movement that involves young people who were film enthusiasts and trying to destroy the rules in the film industry. They created a new art in the film with their brush. The sudden jump cut in the middle of the scene, the out-of-synch sound, freeze frame, breaking the 4th wall, and others. Godard was also the first director to use the technique excessively. Many filmmaker filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Bernardo Bertolucci, and the list goes on widely imitated it.
A lot of people called the French New Wave cinema were bad or most of the time too, they called Godard’s works were ugly. Ironically, the jump cut technique by Godard is a product of post-production compulsion. It’s a movie which is a development from Godard but was written by François Truffaut. Improvisation everywhere. Godard and Truffaut didn’t need to write scripts in conjunction with this film into a moving image. Rather than cutting one scene, sequencing it in full, or seeing it repeatedly, he prefers to play without having to assume where was the most important and wasn’t.
There is a consequence of watching this movie. Just like its self-aware title. “Breathless” is tight. It’s unique because of how the film ambushed the French film industry so swiftly. In the late 50s and early 60s, films with classic narratives dominated French cinema. Also considering that France had just been involved in WWII, the post-war circumstance placed the older generation at the top of the social structure in France. There were many old traditions of French before the war, continued again after the war, but not for filmmaking.
From here, young people including Truffaut and Godard took over the older generation in the choice of themes and storytelling. Especially Jean-Luc Godard, he helped the succession of young people to get into the film industry. In the production of “Breathless”, Godard was like a wolf. He moves outside the system rather than inside. Hoping to create pure art, he is also inspired by Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, etc. For Godard, all of those directors produced an aesthetic cinema, unlike Hollywood films in general at the time.
At the time, the audience is difficult to accept the French New Wave cinema. Most of the French New Wave cinema directors also originated from a film critic. Cinema is more personal but still embraced an experimental. It’s more like an experiment but accidentally created the most influential work in the history of film as well as art.
There are so many ways to, at least, understand this movie. “Breathless”, in historical context, influenced by world war and film as well. In the new cinema movement, this movie creates a lot of revolutions on it. Likewise, many theorists were born in this film both ideologically, politically, and philosophically. Godard, everyone of course knows, was a revolutionary and “Breathless” is all style yet so simple. The aesthetics of the movie didn’t lie on the premise yet the production, theme, key, storytelling, and matters are what make it unique.
This movie was also shot on a hand-held camera, like Godard better go straight down the road, which many people look back at him and the actors, and immediately make the film. Just like all the New Wave cinema. One specific scene also consists of a stranger who wants a lighter of his smoke to Belmondo’s Poiccard. It’s so funny when Belmondo just stays with the character whatever happens on screen. Godard and Ronald, the cinematographer, shot this movie and it just two people. the cinematographer. With a low-budget of $50,000, this movie is rich.
Many film universities widely used “Breathless”. Most film students analyze and use the techniques in this film. Although jump cuts, along with shaky cam, are one of the obnoxious techniques in the cinema if you know how to use it, Godard uses it logically. There is a scene where one uninteresting character was talking to the heroine. There are so many cuts because his characteristic was boring and dull. Rather than cut it to one to another sequence or cut it with the traditional shot-reverse-shot, Godard felt if he didn’t cut them, there would be so many boring and “breathless” sequences. It will be hard to breathe if he didn’t cut it with scissors.
In “Breathless” universe, two characters: Michel and Patricia, have an obsession with art, especially with the artist. Besides Michel with his Bogart, Patricia also has a lot of inspiration with one of the poets and painters. Both characters are a reflection and the scenes consist of a lot of mirrors. The breaking the 4th wall reflects on what Michel’s story started from here and it would be fun, interesting, and James Bond-alike; like most of western films and heroes. But, it ends it badly and terrifying for him. When we see him speak through the audience again, it’s time to say goodbye.
Likewise with Patricia’s character where he always asks what are the terms of “creep” or else. It’s another gag to it, but it might be there will be another thing to talk about it. “Breathless” had a sensational acceptance in addition to creating a lot of unique techniques; they were accidentally and ironically yet widely imitated by many cinemas. The blocking and close-up shot to the characters change everything permanently. Yet, it’s simple and no cliche. The originality shines at the time since today regardless of the premise. At the end of the day, Godard won his point in the cinema, just like most influential directors at the time.
4.5 out of 5 stars.