When Breathless premiered in America in 1961, film critic Penelope Gilliatt wrote that "Jean-Luc Godard makes a film as though no one had ever made one before." Based on an idea by Francois Truffaut and dedicated to Monogram Pictures (the king of B-movie studios), the film's narrative was probably the most conventional Godard was ever to use. But it was the style and attitude of the film that departed radically from what had gone before and immediately established Godard as a leading spokesman of the French New Wave.
Inspired by Godard's love for American film noir thrillers and B-movies, Breathless is about a petty thief named Michel who idolizes Humphrey Bogart. Acting out his life as if he were a character in a gangster film, Michel steals a car, kills a policeman in pursuit, and eventually takes refuge with an American student who casually betrays him.
With a working budget of only $90,000, Godard couldn't afford to make a polished studio film and had no intentions of doing so. Shot entirely on location in the streets, cafes, and hotel rooms of Paris, Breathless was made in complete defiance of mainstream filmmaking techniques. Moving camera shots were hand-held and tracking was accomplished by seating the cameraman in a wheelchair. Additional lighting and the use of tripods, cranes, dollies, and rails were avoided wherever possible. There were no transitions between scenes or matching shots, and jump cuts were used often as a stylistic device to convey a chaotic atmosphere.
A seminal film of the '60s, Breathless showed aspiring filmmakers what novelists have always known: that the manner in which a story is told can be more important than the story itself.
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Producer: Georges de Beauregard
Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard (based on an idea by Francois Truffaut)
Cinematography: Raoul Coutard
Editor: Cecile Decugis, Lila Herman
Music: Martial Solal
Production Design: Claude Chabrol
Principal Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo (Michel Poiccard), Jean Seberg (Patricia Franchini), Daniel Boulanger (Police Inspector), Jean-Pierre Melville (Parvulesco).
In French with English subtitles
by Jeff Stafford