There was before Breathless, and there was after Breathless. With its lack of polish, surplus of attitude, crackling personalities of rising stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, and anything-goes crime narrative, Jean-Luc Godard's debut fashioned a simultaneous homage to and critique of the American film genres that influenced and rocked him as a film writer for Cahiers du cinema. Jazzy, free-form, and sexy, Breathless (A bout de souffle) helped launch the French new wave and ensured cinema would never be the same.
The original trailer exclaims that Breathless
is "The best film on the screen today!" Thanks to the Criterion Collection, the tragicomic tale of "the nice man" (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and "the pretty girl" (Jean Seberg) is one of the best films on DVD
today. Along with the trailer and a restored high-definition transfer (approved by cinematographer Raoul Coutard), this special edition offers interviews past and present, video essays, an 80-minute documentary, a short subject, and a wealth of reading material. Disc one features interviews recorded for French television between 1960 and 1964. In his first of two appearances, Godard laments that "audiences trust me too much... simply because I made a popular film," and hopes his follow-up, Le Petit Soldat
, will flop (he got his wish). Belmondo confirms that the dialogue was written on the spot, while Seberg, who died in 1979, credits Marlon Brando for inspiring her to act. The period conversations conclude with Bob le Flambeur
's Jean-Pierre Melville, who describes himself as a "big brother" to the nouvelle vague
On the second disc, Coutard and assistant director Pierre Rissient relive the making of the movie, followed by direct cinema pioneer D.A. Pennebaker dissecting its documentary aspects. In their video essays, Mark Rappaport (From the Journals of Jean Seberg) explores the life of the actress, while writer Jonathan Rosenbaum looks at Breathless as a form of criticism. The digital extras end with 1993's Chambre 12, Hôtel de Suède, Claude Ventura's made-for-TV doc and Godard's playful short Charlotte et son Jules. The 80-page booklet contains an essay from author Dudley Andrew, a selection of Godard statements, and François Truffaut's script treatment accompanied by Godard's adaptation. As Melville states, Breathless was "a film of exceptional charm and grace." The same could be said of this lovingly compiled boxed set. --Kathleen C. Fennessy