BREATHLESS “A bout de Souffle”– 1960 – A Classic Review - directed by Jean-Luc Godard – 1960 – players are: Patricia (Jean Seberg), Michael (Jean-Paul Belmondo), Inspector Vital (Daniel Boulanger), Antonio (Henri-Jacques Huet), Carl (Roger Hanin), Liliane (Liliane David) – screenplay by Jean-Luc Godard, based upon an original treatment by Francois Truffaut.
Godard’s first full length movie intro-duces him as the latest director to join the French “new wave”. The style, referred to as “la nouvelle vague” was simultan-eously introduced in France in the late fifties by Alain Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour), and Francois Truffaut (400 Blows). Godard brings along with him the ex-boxer Jean-Paul Belmondo as the new French anti-hero.
Although much attention has been paid to the jump-cut style Godard used in this film, the technique was the result of a happy accident. He was trying to take 30 minutes out of the movie. He didn’t want to cut out entire sequences so he made the scenes shorter. However, he liked what he saw so let's give credit where it’s due.
It almost seems sacrilegious to criticize such a legend but he made some directorial choices in his first movie that I’m sure he’d like to recall for a do-over.
I don’t under-stand the unnecessarily long scene that has Michel and Patricia are sitting on a bed, discussing William Faulkner and tossing lit cigarettes out the window. In most civilized societies that rude behavior would result in some loud banging on your apartment door.
He's staged a very chaste sex scene showing a couple of poorly defined lumps rolling around under a sheet. It could have been a two puppies looking for a tennis ball.
And then we have… Michel’s elongated, cartoon-like death scene… Sorry, but Goddard had no idea how to direct these three scenes. Was he just in a rush? Was it inexperience? We’ll never know.
Ha! When Jean Seberg is interviewing a writer, there’s a cutaway to a windup, spring-driven Nagra tape recorder. Coincidentally I have the exact model sitting on a shelf along with my Bull’s Eye Movieola, which was used to edit movies in the silent film days.
In 1966 I was taking night classes in film production at NYU. By then we had digested the French new wave and in NYC the artform had moved beyond hand-held camera and jump cuts. We were into jerky-cam, out of focus, scratchy film and dust spots.
All those butt-painful hours on hard benches in underground film screening rooms and in theaters with your feet stuck to the floor were actually worth it because what we learned freed us from a style that the industry had been mired in for 30 years. When we first started using this editing approach, even those in the television spot business - usually on the cutting edge – rejected them. At one point in the early 70s when a first cut was screened at an agency the art director said, “Oh… it just makes me dizzy.” Now it’s evolved to the point where crossing the stage line and jump cuts are standard attention-getting techniques.
This film was, of course shot in black and white which, if you give it some thought, is a highly abstract medium. The term, noir or “dark film” style was first coined in France by Nino Frank in 1946. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the term was used in the U.S. film industry, which until then referred to the classics “melodramas”.