- The story goes that Cahiers du Cinéma writer/critic turned first-time director Jean-Luc Godard had a finished film that he felt was 30 minutes too long. Instead of cutting out individual scenes (like pretty much every film not made by Godard before or since have)- he cut out what he deemed to be the uninteresting parts within the scenes and kept the total number of scenes overall in. What follows is a 90-minute jump-cut revelation masterpiece that may be only behind Welles in terms of cinema’s all-time great debuts (co-father of the French New Wave Truffaut may have the other main candidate). Happy accident? Or a stroke of genius? I think what would follow with Godard from after Breathless to Weekend in 1967 would confirm that “genius” is certainly the answer. I mention in my notes on Hiroshima Mon Amour that the flickering editing style of Resnais’ does seem like a relative (and precursor) to Godard’s jump-cut. They’re different, but share traits. Resnais’ work is first (you can see a marquee for his film in Breathless actually- just one of the many cinema references in Godard’s debut—Melville is here, Budd Boetticher has a film in there too.).
- The editing is main component that elevates Breathless. It is of course connected to the new radical form (Godard is making a statement on cinema beyond the actual story in the film)—and the pacing of the film (the actual film story itself). Breathless isn’t an overly beautiful film visually
- Confidence is another factor when considering Breathless’ magnitude- from Godard’s airy, genre examination to Jean-Paul Belmondo’s swagger (his first archiveable film, 26 years old at the time of shooting). The film opens with Belmondo talking to the camera in the car by himself. Reflexive– postmodern. Godard is constantly making the audience aware that they are watching a movie. He knows it and we know it (and Belmondo’s Michel knows it). It is casual, random, — “nothing like sunshine”. Michel changes moods so quickly. He’s both flippant and mercurial. He says he’s sad like 10 times in the 90 minutes. He’s a contrarian- disagrees with everything everyone says to him. When asked if he has anything against the youth- he says, “I prefer old people”. Haha
a backpedaling tracking shot catching Belmondo’s swagger
- I love the “hypnotically ugly” description of Belmondo by Bosley Crowther https://www.nytimes.com/1961/02/08/archives/screen-sordid-view-of-french-life-breathless-in-debut-at-the-fine.html
- Godard owes a debt to Martial Solal’s simple yet brilliant jazzy score
- A great two-minute tracking shot at the 14-minute mark when Michel gets his check, Godard tracks in front of them, backpeddling while they walk (a reoccurring shot he uses a few times in the film) in a wheelchair (apparently he couldn’t afford to put down real tracks). A shaky hand-held camera throughout -it is shot on 35mm though, not 16 as some guess.
- Again, a statement on the crime/gangster genre. Godard is so playful, he’s in love with cinema and critical of it. Belmondo’s Michel stares hard at the poster of Bogart here before the playful iris out and in transitions
an iris transition with Godard himself playing an informant– these iris transitions- a bit of whimsy both he and Truffaut share in the part of the New Wave
Most of the film is shot in these short bursts of narrative, playful action sequences, car rides, scenes in cafes (with Belmondo almost always jumping somewhere to steal something or make a phone call). But at the 28-minute mark Godard slows the film down and spend 25 minutes (roughly one-third of the entire running time) with Belmondo and co-start Jean Seberg in her room. They both speak in an almost stream of consciousness fashion—often talking past each other. It feels unrehearsed and refreshing. He’s really trying to sleep with her “take off your shirt” as she reads to him. Ends at the 53-minute mark
The Jean-Pierre Melville interview scene is excellent. He counts women on his hand (like Belmondo’s Michel– another moment of artifice), says lines like “to become immortal and then die” and then we cut to Seberg who stares at the screen (she does this a few times—reflexive, setting up the finale) and gets a dissolve edit.
- Utterly lively, characters just speak randomly, when talking about women’s dresses Belmondo’s Michel stops the car, runs over and lifts up a woman’s skirt
The final close-up of Seberg – staring the camera. Again, self-aware of the artifice of movie-making—and not wholly dissimilar from the mammoth final shot of The 400 Blows