Breathless


1h 30m 1961
Breathless

Brief Synopsis

A small-time hood hides out from the cops with his American girlfriend.

Film Details

Also Known As
À bout de souffle
Genre
Romance
Drama
Crime
Foreign
Release Date
Jan 1961
Premiere Information
New York opening: 7 Feb 1961
Production Company
Productions Georges de Beauregard; S. N. C.
Distribution Company
Films Around the World, Inc.
Country
France
Location
Marseilles, France; Paris, France

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

Michel Poiccard, a self-centered and amoral young Frenchman with no visible means of support, has patterned his character after Humphrey Bogart's screen image, taking what he wants when he wants it. One day while loafing around Marseilles, he casually steals a car. He heads north, and, finding a gun in the glove compartment, cold-bloodedly kills a policeman who attempts to stop him. Back in Paris, he makes a date with Patricia Franchini, a young American expatriate who sells the Herald Tribune on the Champs-Elysées. Shaking off police, he mugs and robs a man in a restaurant men's room and then lets himself into Patricia's apartment. They make love, and she reveals that she may be pregnant as a result of an earlier encounter. He suggests that they go to Italy, but she guards against sacrificing her independence and her aspirations as a journalist. Threatened by police, she accompanies Michel to a friend's house; but, concerned about her freedom, she then impulsively betrays him in hopes of forcing him to leave without her. Not even the thought of death, however, can move Michel, and he lingers about the house until the police arrive on the scene. As he runs down the cobblestoned street, he is hit from behind by gunfire. When Patricia reaches him, he looks up at her, makes their private funny face, curses her, and then dies.

Film Details

Also Known As
À bout de souffle
Genre
Romance
Drama
Crime
Foreign
Release Date
Jan 1961
Premiere Information
New York opening: 7 Feb 1961
Production Company
Productions Georges de Beauregard; S. N. C.
Distribution Company
Films Around the World, Inc.
Country
France
Location
Marseilles, France; Paris, France

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

Breathless (1960)


Breathless (1960) was the first feature directed by Jean-Luc Godard, and along with The 400 Blows (1959) by his friend François Truffaut, it skyrocketed the young filmmakers to international fame and signaled the emergence of the French New Wave. Of the two instant classics, Breathless is easily the more radical, swinging from kinetic action - a car theft, a murder - to leisurely scenes of hanging out, strolling down the boulevard, and chatting about nothing in particular. What unifies the film is Godard's hyperactive style, using abrupt jump cuts and a restless, roaming camera to inject the homes, shops, sidewalks, and streets of Paris with nonstop cinematic energy. The story is equally offbeat, moving at an edgy yet unhurried pace until a last-minute twist brings the movie and its main character to a sudden end.

Beginning his career-long habit of working without a screenplay, Godard and his cast improvised Breathless from a brief story outline by Truffaut, telling the story of a gangster and his girl. The former is Michel, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo in the performance that defined his career. The latter is Patricia, played by Jean Seberg in the performance that rescued her from oblivion after the box-office nosedives of two Hollywood pictures that tried and failed to make her a star - Saint Joan (1957) and Bonjour Tristesse (1958). Michel is a small-time thug who steals a car, goes for a joy ride in the countryside, and kills a policeman who chases him. Patricia is an American student who sells newspapers on the Champs-Élysées, goes to classes at the Sorbonne, and spends her spare time with Michel, who can't figure out whether she loves him or not.

Michel spends most of the movie dodging a police dragnet and hunting for a friend who owes him money so he can collect and get out of the country, hopefully with Patricia at his side. But his plans crash and burn when Patricia walks into a café, picks up a phone, and betrays him to the police for no apparent reason. Soon afterward they gun him down in the street outside the apartment where he's been hiding, and his final run for freedom seems almost perfunctory - by now he's fed up, played out, "at the end of breath," to translate the film's French title, À bout de souffle. Mumbling about how "disgusting" the situation is, he dies while Patricia watches with no sign of emotion. Then she gives a last look directly to Godard's camera and turns away, leaving us to wonder if love and loyalty have simply eluded this particular couple or have become irrelevant illusions, unsuited to our existentially troubled times.

Before he started making films, Godard was among the young French critics who developed the auteur theory during the 1950s, calling for directors to "write" with their cameras as personally as if they were penning novels, poems, or letters to friends. This explains the improvised events and spontaneous moods of Breathless, while its vivid realism - the film is as much a documentary about Paris as a thriller and a romance - reflects Godard's admiration for the Italian neorealist filmmakers of the late 40's and early 50's, who traded studio artificiality and movie-star glamour for naturalistic stories in authentic settings. Godard also loved Hollywood movies, and many of his 1960s pictures are clever variations on tried-and-true commercial genres: Breathless is dedicated to Monogram Pictures, a minor American studio, and it's a hardboiled gangster film just as A Woman Is a Woman (1961) is a musical, Les Carabiniers (1963) is a war picture, Alphaville (1965) is a science-fiction yarn, and Week End (1967) is a film noir in color. The spur-of-the-moment construction of Breathless allowed Godard to inject film-savvy jokes and allusions as well - a famous novelist is played by his fellow director Jean-Pierre Melville, for instance, and Michel idolizes Humphrey Bogart, the movie gangster par excellence. Godard even does an Alfred Hitchcock-type cameo as a passing stranger who helps the police stay on Michel's trail.

Godard also loved style for its own sake, which is why he places editing, camera movement, and occasionally music at the center of attention, no less important than the movie's characters and events. When shooting Breathless he sometimes propelled his brilliant young cinematographer, Raoul Coutard, through the picture's real-life locations in a wheelchair, or hid him in a mail cart so he could shoot on streets and sidewalks without attracting attention; at other times they did their filming openly, and if you watch carefully you'll see passers-by gawking at the camera. The lighting of interiors was innovative too - rejecting the sophisticated three-point system favored by studios, Coutard filled large areas with relatively even illumination, allowing the actors to move freely instead of hitting predetermined marks. The editing process was equally instinctive, as Godard spliced dissimilar shots together and yanked out nonessential frames, ranking correctness and convention far below the off-the-cuff impulses of the moment, as do the freewheeling characters themselves. In his most daringly spontaneous maneuver, Godard chose to shoot the film without sound so he could call out dialogue to the actors while the camera rolled, recording their voices later in a studio dubbing room.

Godard's lack of regard for the standard rules of movie storytelling angered tradition-minded critics and filmmakers wherever Breathless was shown. But others recognized the far-reaching potential of his highly original techniques, and American directors as different as Arthur Penn, Sidney Lumet, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brian De Palma were influenced by his movies and ideas when they developed their own styles in the 1960s. Godard never had another hit as big as Breathless - or another hit of any size - and it's still his most frequently watched film. His own attitude toward it appears to be a sort of cautious pride: "Although I felt ashamed of it at one time," he said in 1962, "I do like Breathless very much, but now I see where it belongs - along with Alice in Wonderland. I thought it was Scarface." This is a cryptic and amusing comment, like many of Godard's remarks, but there's nothing mysterious about the film's enduring appeal. It hit the screen like a burst of fresh air in 1960 and has left moviegoers breathless ever since.

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Producer: Georges de Beauregard
Writer: Jean-Luc Godard, from a story by François Truffaut
Cinematographer: Raoul Coutard
Film Editing: Cécile Decugis, Lila Herman
Music: Martial Solal
With: Jean-Paul Belmondo (Michel Poiccard), Jean Seberg (Patricia Franchini), Daniel Boulanger (Police Inspector Vital), Jean-Pierre Melville (Parvulesco), Henri-Jacques Huet (Antonio Berrutti), Van Doude (himself), Claude Mansard (Claudius Mansard), Jean-Luc Godard (informer), Richard Balducci (Tolmatchoff), Roger Hanin (Cal Zombach), Jean-Louis Richard (journalist).
BW-90m.

by David Sterritt
Breathless (1960)

Breathless (1960)

Breathless (1960) was the first feature directed by Jean-Luc Godard, and along with The 400 Blows (1959) by his friend François Truffaut, it skyrocketed the young filmmakers to international fame and signaled the emergence of the French New Wave. Of the two instant classics, Breathless is easily the more radical, swinging from kinetic action - a car theft, a murder - to leisurely scenes of hanging out, strolling down the boulevard, and chatting about nothing in particular. What unifies the film is Godard's hyperactive style, using abrupt jump cuts and a restless, roaming camera to inject the homes, shops, sidewalks, and streets of Paris with nonstop cinematic energy. The story is equally offbeat, moving at an edgy yet unhurried pace until a last-minute twist brings the movie and its main character to a sudden end. Beginning his career-long habit of working without a screenplay, Godard and his cast improvised Breathless from a brief story outline by Truffaut, telling the story of a gangster and his girl. The former is Michel, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo in the performance that defined his career. The latter is Patricia, played by Jean Seberg in the performance that rescued her from oblivion after the box-office nosedives of two Hollywood pictures that tried and failed to make her a star - Saint Joan (1957) and Bonjour Tristesse (1958). Michel is a small-time thug who steals a car, goes for a joy ride in the countryside, and kills a policeman who chases him. Patricia is an American student who sells newspapers on the Champs-Élysées, goes to classes at the Sorbonne, and spends her spare time with Michel, who can't figure out whether she loves him or not. Michel spends most of the movie dodging a police dragnet and hunting for a friend who owes him money so he can collect and get out of the country, hopefully with Patricia at his side. But his plans crash and burn when Patricia walks into a café, picks up a phone, and betrays him to the police for no apparent reason. Soon afterward they gun him down in the street outside the apartment where he's been hiding, and his final run for freedom seems almost perfunctory - by now he's fed up, played out, "at the end of breath," to translate the film's French title, À bout de souffle. Mumbling about how "disgusting" the situation is, he dies while Patricia watches with no sign of emotion. Then she gives a last look directly to Godard's camera and turns away, leaving us to wonder if love and loyalty have simply eluded this particular couple or have become irrelevant illusions, unsuited to our existentially troubled times. Before he started making films, Godard was among the young French critics who developed the auteur theory during the 1950s, calling for directors to "write" with their cameras as personally as if they were penning novels, poems, or letters to friends. This explains the improvised events and spontaneous moods of Breathless, while its vivid realism - the film is as much a documentary about Paris as a thriller and a romance - reflects Godard's admiration for the Italian neorealist filmmakers of the late 40's and early 50's, who traded studio artificiality and movie-star glamour for naturalistic stories in authentic settings. Godard also loved Hollywood movies, and many of his 1960s pictures are clever variations on tried-and-true commercial genres: Breathless is dedicated to Monogram Pictures, a minor American studio, and it's a hardboiled gangster film just as A Woman Is a Woman (1961) is a musical, Les Carabiniers (1963) is a war picture, Alphaville (1965) is a science-fiction yarn, and Week End (1967) is a film noir in color. The spur-of-the-moment construction of Breathless allowed Godard to inject film-savvy jokes and allusions as well - a famous novelist is played by his fellow director Jean-Pierre Melville, for instance, and Michel idolizes Humphrey Bogart, the movie gangster par excellence. Godard even does an Alfred Hitchcock-type cameo as a passing stranger who helps the police stay on Michel's trail. Godard also loved style for its own sake, which is why he places editing, camera movement, and occasionally music at the center of attention, no less important than the movie's characters and events. When shooting Breathless he sometimes propelled his brilliant young cinematographer, Raoul Coutard, through the picture's real-life locations in a wheelchair, or hid him in a mail cart so he could shoot on streets and sidewalks without attracting attention; at other times they did their filming openly, and if you watch carefully you'll see passers-by gawking at the camera. The lighting of interiors was innovative too - rejecting the sophisticated three-point system favored by studios, Coutard filled large areas with relatively even illumination, allowing the actors to move freely instead of hitting predetermined marks. The editing process was equally instinctive, as Godard spliced dissimilar shots together and yanked out nonessential frames, ranking correctness and convention far below the off-the-cuff impulses of the moment, as do the freewheeling characters themselves. In his most daringly spontaneous maneuver, Godard chose to shoot the film without sound so he could call out dialogue to the actors while the camera rolled, recording their voices later in a studio dubbing room. Godard's lack of regard for the standard rules of movie storytelling angered tradition-minded critics and filmmakers wherever Breathless was shown. But others recognized the far-reaching potential of his highly original techniques, and American directors as different as Arthur Penn, Sidney Lumet, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brian De Palma were influenced by his movies and ideas when they developed their own styles in the 1960s. Godard never had another hit as big as Breathless - or another hit of any size - and it's still his most frequently watched film. His own attitude toward it appears to be a sort of cautious pride: "Although I felt ashamed of it at one time," he said in 1962, "I do like Breathless very much, but now I see where it belongs - along with Alice in Wonderland. I thought it was Scarface." This is a cryptic and amusing comment, like many of Godard's remarks, but there's nothing mysterious about the film's enduring appeal. It hit the screen like a burst of fresh air in 1960 and has left moviegoers breathless ever since. Director: Jean-Luc Godard Producer: Georges de Beauregard Writer: Jean-Luc Godard, from a story by François Truffaut Cinematographer: Raoul Coutard Film Editing: Cécile Decugis, Lila Herman Music: Martial Solal With: Jean-Paul Belmondo (Michel Poiccard), Jean Seberg (Patricia Franchini), Daniel Boulanger (Police Inspector Vital), Jean-Pierre Melville (Parvulesco), Henri-Jacques Huet (Antonio Berrutti), Van Doude (himself), Claude Mansard (Claudius Mansard), Jean-Luc Godard (informer), Richard Balducci (Tolmatchoff), Roger Hanin (Cal Zombach), Jean-Louis Richard (journalist). BW-90m. by David Sterritt

Breathless


Original French title: A Bout De Souffle

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
BW-90m.

by Jeff Stafford

Breathless

Original French title: A Bout De Souffle 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 BW-90m. by Jeff Stafford

Breathless - BREATHLESS - Jean-Luc Godard's Seminal 'New Wave' French Classic on DVD


The best special editions in the Criterion Collection maximize the experience of rediscovering a remarkable motion picture. Reading a book about Jean-Luc Godard is one thing, but viewing prime source research material for a lightning-strikes-once picture like Breathless (À bout de souffle) is something else again, especially when participants take the time, decades later, to speak out about the filmmaking process. In 1959 a maverick producer gambled on a film French critic eager to try out his radical filmmaking ideas. Jean-Luc Godard is quoted as saying that as a critic, he already considered himself a filmmaker, and when he made films, he continued being a critic.

Synopsis: After stealing a car and shooting a policeman, aimless crook Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) spends a chaotic couple of days avoiding Parisian cops while chasing down Antonio Berrutti (Henri-Jacques Huet), who owes him money. Michel swipes cash from a couple of girlfriends but spends most of his time reacquainting himself with young Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg), a free-spirit New Yorker intent on making good on a new job as a newspaper reporter. The two grow closer together until Patricia realizes that Michel is a wanted murderer, with the police close on his heels.

Interviewed a couple of years after the success of Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard admitted that he thought he was making Scarface when his natural inclination was toward Alice in Wonderland. An admirer of American auteur directors like Howard Hawks, Godard realized that he wasn't as interested in narrative as he was in his own ideas about cinema. Breathless did indeed alter the direction of film language. It started as an homage to American noir similar to Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player and ended up causing a major movie-world sensation. Although Godard signed the talked-about star Jean Seberg, the media fuss for once centered on the movie itself.

Godard's style would soon reject straight narrative in favor of a personal mix of spontaneous improvisation, inter-title signage and personal references to obscure movie lore. A Woman is a Woman celebrated (or mocked) the appeal of MGM musicals, while Alphaville subverted the conventions of super-spy fantasies. Breathless is peppered with references to French and American crime pictures, some of which only a studious film historian could pick out. He name-drops a character from Bob le flambeur, and then later casts that film's director as an author holding court at a news interview.

Breathless is saved from insider-joke limbo by Godard's assured direction of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. Seberg may have been available because she was no longer a hot name after her flops with Otto Preminger. Belmondo had already made a short subject with Godard (included on the disc). The actors' unforced natural chemistry carries an episode in a hotel room for a full twenty minutes without losing energy. Michel is an 'honest cad', an amoral arrested-adolescent who accepts most of fate's surprises with a Bogart-like shrug. The intelligent and graceful Patricia carefully guards her secrets. Godard doesn't stray from the noir formula -- "men seduce and women betray", as one commentator explains -- but his directing style liberates his characters from the rigid confines of a script.

But Godard's best break came when producer Georges de Beauregard insisted that the first-time director work with a cameraman he had never met. Ex- docu lensman Raoul Coutard used fast film manufactured for still cameras, pushing the developing to achieve an ASA higher than 400 without excessive grain. This accounts for the film's luminous dusk and nighttime photography. Coutard achieves full detail on the nighttime Champs-Elyseés without under-cranking his camera.

Much more controversial was Godard's antithetical editorial technique, that rejects many givens of professional filmmaking, especially the notion of invisible cutting. Actors address the camera with their eyes, and even speak to it, directly acknowledging the presence of the audience. Intentional jump-cuts punctuate a drive through the Paris streets, a now-familiar effect that initially elicited charges of incompetence, if not directorial heresy. Some of these scenes now seem a bit forced, a way to ratchet up the pace. One café conversation between Patricia and her boss simply snips out the gaps between his sentences, leading us to suspect that the editor has simply edited out footage of Godard feeding the actor his lines. No wonder Godard was able to knock off some scenes in fifteen minutes. Working at that pace, the performers couldn't possibly become stale.

Jean-Paul Belmondo imitates Humphrey Bogart by self-consciously stroking his lip with his thumb; he stands outside a theater to regard a photo of the American star. It's reasonable to surmise that the Bogart cult that started on mid-60s college campuses might have been triggered by the New Wave directors' adulation of American noir pictures, way before the term 'film noir' was known in America. We've been told repeatedly that American filmmakers were eager to 'borrow' the spirit of the New Wave. As Clyde Barrow in Bonnie & Clyde, Warren Beatty tilts his head back, taps his hat forward and flicks a matchstick between his lips. After seeing Breathless, it's obvious that he's imitating Belmondo's Michel.

Criterion's 2-disc DVD of Breathless holds a bounty of discoveries for those curious about the origins of Jean-Luc Godard and the French New Wave. The handsome flat 1.33 transfer allows us to appreciate image subtleties that old 16mm prints couldn't replicate. Improved subtitle translations make it easier to follow the figures of speech in the French dialogue.

Disc producers Abbey Lustgarten and Alexandre Mabilon have assembled a flawless set of extras. An eighty-page booklet contains an essay by Dudley Andrew, a selection of Godard quotes, François Truffaut's treatment for the film and Godard's longer scenario. Disc one resurrects old TV interviews with Godard, Belmondo, Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean Seberg. Seberg graciously fends off a woman interviewer's aggressive focus on the actress's divorce and emotional problems. The original French trailer is as audacious as the film itself.

Disc two has excellent new interviews with cameraman Coutard, assistant director Pierre Rissient and docu filmmaker Donn Pennebaker. Mark Rappaport's short docu Jean Seberg shows clips of the actress's initial screen test for Otto Preminger and her frightening experience almost burning on the set of St. Joan, and charts her unhappy demise after being hounded by the F.B.I..

In the new featurette Breathless as Criticism Jonathan Rosenbaum identifies the film's insider references as if revealing the answers to a pop quiz. The feature-length French TV docu Chambre 12, Hôtel de Suède visits the film's locations, interviewing Jean-Paul Belmondo and other surviving participants. The filmmaker found the film's key hotel room location just a week before the entire building was demolished.

Finishing off the extras is Jean-Luc Godard's short film Charlotte et son Jules, a one-joke skit. Jean-Paul Belmondo attempts to seduce the lady of the title by spouting a ceaseless monologue of insults. When she doesn't respond, Belmondo alters his strategy until he reaches the point of pleading for mercy. The film is an amusing critique of casual lovemaking arrogance.

For more information about Breathless, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Breathless, go to TCM Shopping.

by Pablo Kjolseth

Breathless - BREATHLESS - Jean-Luc Godard's Seminal 'New Wave' French Classic on DVD

The best special editions in the Criterion Collection maximize the experience of rediscovering a remarkable motion picture. Reading a book about Jean-Luc Godard is one thing, but viewing prime source research material for a lightning-strikes-once picture like Breathless (À bout de souffle) is something else again, especially when participants take the time, decades later, to speak out about the filmmaking process. In 1959 a maverick producer gambled on a film French critic eager to try out his radical filmmaking ideas. Jean-Luc Godard is quoted as saying that as a critic, he already considered himself a filmmaker, and when he made films, he continued being a critic. Synopsis: After stealing a car and shooting a policeman, aimless crook Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) spends a chaotic couple of days avoiding Parisian cops while chasing down Antonio Berrutti (Henri-Jacques Huet), who owes him money. Michel swipes cash from a couple of girlfriends but spends most of his time reacquainting himself with young Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg), a free-spirit New Yorker intent on making good on a new job as a newspaper reporter. The two grow closer together until Patricia realizes that Michel is a wanted murderer, with the police close on his heels. Interviewed a couple of years after the success of Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard admitted that he thought he was making Scarface when his natural inclination was toward Alice in Wonderland. An admirer of American auteur directors like Howard Hawks, Godard realized that he wasn't as interested in narrative as he was in his own ideas about cinema. Breathless did indeed alter the direction of film language. It started as an homage to American noir similar to Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player and ended up causing a major movie-world sensation. Although Godard signed the talked-about star Jean Seberg, the media fuss for once centered on the movie itself. Godard's style would soon reject straight narrative in favor of a personal mix of spontaneous improvisation, inter-title signage and personal references to obscure movie lore. A Woman is a Woman celebrated (or mocked) the appeal of MGM musicals, while Alphaville subverted the conventions of super-spy fantasies. Breathless is peppered with references to French and American crime pictures, some of which only a studious film historian could pick out. He name-drops a character from Bob le flambeur, and then later casts that film's director as an author holding court at a news interview. Breathless is saved from insider-joke limbo by Godard's assured direction of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. Seberg may have been available because she was no longer a hot name after her flops with Otto Preminger. Belmondo had already made a short subject with Godard (included on the disc). The actors' unforced natural chemistry carries an episode in a hotel room for a full twenty minutes without losing energy. Michel is an 'honest cad', an amoral arrested-adolescent who accepts most of fate's surprises with a Bogart-like shrug. The intelligent and graceful Patricia carefully guards her secrets. Godard doesn't stray from the noir formula -- "men seduce and women betray", as one commentator explains -- but his directing style liberates his characters from the rigid confines of a script. But Godard's best break came when producer Georges de Beauregard insisted that the first-time director work with a cameraman he had never met. Ex- docu lensman Raoul Coutard used fast film manufactured for still cameras, pushing the developing to achieve an ASA higher than 400 without excessive grain. This accounts for the film's luminous dusk and nighttime photography. Coutard achieves full detail on the nighttime Champs-Elyseés without under-cranking his camera. Much more controversial was Godard's antithetical editorial technique, that rejects many givens of professional filmmaking, especially the notion of invisible cutting. Actors address the camera with their eyes, and even speak to it, directly acknowledging the presence of the audience. Intentional jump-cuts punctuate a drive through the Paris streets, a now-familiar effect that initially elicited charges of incompetence, if not directorial heresy. Some of these scenes now seem a bit forced, a way to ratchet up the pace. One café conversation between Patricia and her boss simply snips out the gaps between his sentences, leading us to suspect that the editor has simply edited out footage of Godard feeding the actor his lines. No wonder Godard was able to knock off some scenes in fifteen minutes. Working at that pace, the performers couldn't possibly become stale. Jean-Paul Belmondo imitates Humphrey Bogart by self-consciously stroking his lip with his thumb; he stands outside a theater to regard a photo of the American star. It's reasonable to surmise that the Bogart cult that started on mid-60s college campuses might have been triggered by the New Wave directors' adulation of American noir pictures, way before the term 'film noir' was known in America. We've been told repeatedly that American filmmakers were eager to 'borrow' the spirit of the New Wave. As Clyde Barrow in Bonnie & Clyde, Warren Beatty tilts his head back, taps his hat forward and flicks a matchstick between his lips. After seeing Breathless, it's obvious that he's imitating Belmondo's Michel. Criterion's 2-disc DVD of Breathless holds a bounty of discoveries for those curious about the origins of Jean-Luc Godard and the French New Wave. The handsome flat 1.33 transfer allows us to appreciate image subtleties that old 16mm prints couldn't replicate. Improved subtitle translations make it easier to follow the figures of speech in the French dialogue. Disc producers Abbey Lustgarten and Alexandre Mabilon have assembled a flawless set of extras. An eighty-page booklet contains an essay by Dudley Andrew, a selection of Godard quotes, François Truffaut's treatment for the film and Godard's longer scenario. Disc one resurrects old TV interviews with Godard, Belmondo, Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean Seberg. Seberg graciously fends off a woman interviewer's aggressive focus on the actress's divorce and emotional problems. The original French trailer is as audacious as the film itself. Disc two has excellent new interviews with cameraman Coutard, assistant director Pierre Rissient and docu filmmaker Donn Pennebaker. Mark Rappaport's short docu Jean Seberg shows clips of the actress's initial screen test for Otto Preminger and her frightening experience almost burning on the set of St. Joan, and charts her unhappy demise after being hounded by the F.B.I.. In the new featurette Breathless as Criticism Jonathan Rosenbaum identifies the film's insider references as if revealing the answers to a pop quiz. The feature-length French TV docu Chambre 12, Hôtel de Suède visits the film's locations, interviewing Jean-Paul Belmondo and other surviving participants. The filmmaker found the film's key hotel room location just a week before the entire building was demolished. Finishing off the extras is Jean-Luc Godard's short film Charlotte et son Jules, a one-joke skit. Jean-Paul Belmondo attempts to seduce the lady of the title by spouting a ceaseless monologue of insults. When she doesn't respond, Belmondo alters his strategy until he reaches the point of pleading for mercy. The film is an amusing critique of casual lovemaking arrogance. For more information about Breathless, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Breathless, go to TCM Shopping. by Pablo Kjolseth

Quotes

Don't use the brakes. Cars are made to go, not to stop!
- Michel Poiccard
When the French say a second, they mean five minutes.
- Patricia Franchini
There's no need to lie. It's like poker. The truth is best. The others still think you're bluffing, so you win.
- Michel Poiccard
Reminds me of the one about the condemned man. Climbing the scaffold stairs, he trips, and says, "In the future... "
- Michel Poiccard
You Americans are dumb. You admire Lafayette and Maurice Chevalier. They're the dumbest of all Frenchmen.
- Michel Poiccard

Trivia

Despite reports to the contrary, Jean-Luc Godard did not shoot the film without a script; however, he did not have a finished script at the beginning, instead writing scenes in the morning and filming them that day. See also Pierrot le fou (1965).

To give a more detached, spontaneous quality, Godard fed the actors their lines as scenes were being filmed.

Notes

Paris opening: March 1960 as À bout de souffle. The film is dedicated to Monogram Pictures. Much of the dialogue was improvised during or just before shooting. Only one source credits Godard as editor.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Foreign Language Films by the 1961 New York Times Film Critics.

Winner of the 1960 Prix Jean Vigo.

Winner of the Best Director Prize at the 1960 Berlin Film Festival.

Released in United States Spring May 1961

Re-released in United States December 13, 1991

Re-released in United States April 7, 2000

Re-released in United States May 28, 2010

Released in United States 1960

Released in United States 1991

Released in United States March 1996

Released in United States September 1996

Released in United States 2001

Shown at the 1960 Berlin Film Festival.

Shown at the National Film Theatre in London, England as part of a special two-month program dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard, June 1 - July 31, 2001.

Feature directorial debut for Jean-Luc Godard.

Completed shooting September 15, 1959.

Began shooting August 17, 1959.

Widely considered one of the most influential films of all time.

Re-released in Paris April 17, 1991.

Released in United States Spring May 1961

Re-released in United States December 13, 1991 (Film Forum 2; New York City)

Re-released in United States April 7, 2000 (Film Forum; New York City)

Re-released in United States May 28, 2010 (New York City)

Released in United States 1991 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of retrospective of films by Jean-Luc Godard January 4 - February 7, 1991.)

Released in United States 1960 (Shown at the 1960 Berlin Film Festival.)

Released in United States March 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "The Films of Jean Seberg" March 15-28, 1996.)

Released in United States September 1996 (Shown in New York City (Anthology Film Archives) as part of program "Best of the Indies" September 5-15, 1996.)

Released in United States 2001 (Shown at the National Film Theatre in London, England as part of a special two-month program dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard, June 1 - July 31, 2001.)