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Breathless (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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Aside from Godard's 1959 short film "Charlotte et son Jules" and the French trailer for Breathless, the other Criterion extras are newer. Two Breathless collaborators, cinematographer Raoul Coutard and assistant director Pierre Rissient, recollect being in on the making of film history--although at the time they had doubts that the movie would be released. Rissient (who became a legendary producer and promoter) reckons that Godard "learned his style out of Breathless." Coutard's resourceful available-light camerawork revolutionized modern cinematography and made him a New Wave star in his own right. His training as a photojournalist had prepared him to work fast, on location, and on the cheap (he got "dolly shots" by filming from a wheelchair pushed by Godard). And he had the equanimity to cope when, after two hours' work, the director would close his notebook and say, "That's all for today--I'm out of ideas."
Three visual essays deepen appreciation of the film. Cinéma vérité pioneer D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back) discusses the overlap of documentary technique and narrative film in Godard's work, including Godard's description of Breathless as "a documentary about Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg." In "Breathless" as Criticism, film scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum positions the movie as a "critical manifesto on behalf of American genre cinema" and highlights Godard's penchant for quotations and interpolations from literature, painting, and especially movies--most famously, Belmondo aping Humphrey Bogart's signature rubbing of his lip. Mark Rappaport, maker of the 1995 feature From the Journals of Jean Seberg, contributes a new take on the actress's troubled life and career. He sees her Breathless character Patricia as a variation on Henry James's Daisy Miller: in Seberg's final, enigmatic close-up, "she's an open book and a riddle waiting to be solved."
Longest and most intriguing of the special features is Chambre 12, Hôtel du Suède, an 80-minute documentary from 1993. The titular chambre is the selfsame tiny hotel room where Godard filmed Breathless's 25-minute seduction scene. Xavier Villetard rents it for a week, as a base from which to explore key Breathless locations around Paris and interview as many surviving cast and crew members as he can meet. Godard remains a brusque voice on the telephone, but Claude Chabrol, billed as "technical consultant" on Breathless, talks genially about the "totally bogus" credits for himself and François Truffaut ("screenplay"); because they each already had a hit film to their credit, their nominal participation lent Godard cachet as he scrambled for backing. Belmondo, a silver lion by 1993, is still funny and frank; editor Cécile Decugis reminisces wryly about Godard's working methods. All good stuff, yet some of the choicest material is contributed by bit players in Godard's film and life. Liliane David, who played the casual girlfriend Michel robs, dishes about the diverse personalities in "the Cahiers gang," Godard's fellow critics-turned-filmmakers, and we learn that some of the outré names studding the movie's dialogue were borrowed from personal friends of the director. During a visit to the Swiss town that was Godard's home in the years before Breathless, we even get to meet one of them (he and Godard don't talk much anymore). As for Room 12 and the Hôtel du Suède, the whole place, literally a landmark in film history, was demolished the day after Villetard checked out. --Richard T. Jameson
Top Customer Reviews
Jean-Luc Godard's first feature, "Breathless," was released in 1960, introducing the New Wave and changing cinema forever. Godard used jump cuts, handheld cameras, zoom lenses and a new editing style to take the viewer places never ventured before. No artificial, glossy stage sets in this movie. Along with the protagonists, we travel up and down small side streets, into local bars and sidewalk cafes, across boulevards and, for inconsequential moments, brush the lives of passers-by, who have nothing to do with the screenplay, but always play a role in our daily comings and goings. The fragmented rhythm of modern life is translated here. Godard used sound in the same way, adding street noises, bits of conversations and music to add to the movie's authenticity and pace. This was indeed innovative at the time. And it still holds up. Watching "Breathless" forty-five years after its debut, 21st century technology does not detract from its dynamism or relevance in the slightest. In fact, with each viewing, I find the film every bit as exciting and poignant as I did the first time.
Jean-Paul Belmondo plays the feckless, foul-mouthed car thief, anti-hero and Humphrey Bogart fan, Michel Poiccard.Read more ›
The film is one of the finest examples of New Wave cinema, from its jump cuts, its depiction of Parisian life, its incredibly sustained sequences of pure converstaion and dialogue, all of which dominate what is essentially a simple chase picture.
Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg are a perfect mix of classic and contemporary, both remaining timeless. Their relationship really unfolds in the film's central sequence, a near 25-minute conversation in Seberg's bedroom, in which such subjects as Faulkner and fornication are explored aptly. And that is what the film is known for----when was the last time a thriller contained the audacity to feel free to explore areas residing outside the genre?
Like "Pulp Fiction," one of its distant relatives, this is a film where plot and story are present but removed far into the background, while character, dialogue and visual texture are placed in the foreground. In its pristine black-and-white cinematography, its innovative use of camera movement and position, its raw, defined performances, and its tireless style and visual invention, "Breathless" is a great film and belongs in any serious film lover's video library.
Contemplating the society when Breathless was shot and comparing it with our current society might not be the best approach. It is also silly to think that a young audience will get all the references to older films, which Breathless intends to shove aside with a refreshing style. For example, jump cuts are something that today's youth have seen millions of times. If people watch MTV or any other television channel they will see the infamous jump cut in action in both recorded and live format. So why bother watching Breathless? Well, to fully appreciate Breathless the audience should watch films from France and the rest of the world that were made before, let's say in 1955. In this way the audience will build an idea of how stiff and structured films were without much visual surprise, which big production companies still depend on occasionally as they use them as a safety net in fear of having a bomb at the box office.
Breathless is actually a refreshing breath of a new wave that hit the world of the cinema in the 1960s. This fresh idea helped develop film and cinema into what it is today, and this is why Breathless is such an important film. The film broke the cinematic rules that were in use by the production companies. For example, Godard wrote his shooting script during his morning coffee while probably inhaling his nicotine fumes, scenes where not rehearsed and the idea of how to frame a shot came though the motion and the making of the film.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Wonderful portrayals by the two main actors. Innovative filming for its time with a handheld camera, it seems. Many allusions to film history worked into the piece. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Ronald
Very exciting movie. A few odd scenes. A slight imitation of film noir, but still enjoyable.Published 2 months ago by Iris Hinds
Not the best French film I have ever watched.. interesting but lacks some of the usual French play on situations.Published 4 months ago by Sandi Ackerman
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