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33 Breathless 1959 
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Post 33 Breathless 1959
Zeppelin from the cinematic journey

With most films, my opinion is often fairly conclusive after my first viewing. I rarely watch movies over again, and if I do it's usually because I haven't seen them in a very long time. Several days ago I watched No. 33 on the list Breathless for the first time. After that initial viewing, my feelings were mixed. I found the film emotionally cold, annoyingly hip and aimlessly pompous. However, almost as soon as it ended I felt that I'd seen something significant, and even though I didn't particularly like Breathless, I found that I couldn't get it out of my head and felt like I couldn't fully wrap my head around it. And in a weird kind of way, I felt like I had deeply enjoyed it as well. I concluded the next day that I would have to see Breathless a second time, and having just finished that second viewing I must say I'm glad I made that decision.

I think my biggest stumbling block on the first viewing was the supposed emotional coldness. I found it very difficult to relate at all to these characters. To some extent I understood them, their disenchantment, thirst for meaning and deep-rooted insecurities. After all, wandering, crime committing youths have left a large mark on cinema history, and being that Breathless was the first of these movies, parts of these two characters have shown up in many films since. However, it still felt like Godard was intentionally keeping me at arms length from these two. On my second viewing, my feelings reversed. Now prepared, I realized that it wasen't Godard, but the characters themselves. Both Michel and Patricia are incredibly closed off characters, and once I started ignoring the dialogue and paying more attention to the characters themselves I saw the subtle ways they would react to each other and to the world around them. Both Michel and Patricia are insecure and selfish, for sure, but other than that they're in many ways opposites.

Michel dosen't want to be who he is, so he acts like a super-tough movie star, the kind of man who always knows what to say and do, and because of this he trusts his opinion over everyone elses, and for most of the film sees thing only from the perspective of the man who can do no wrong. So he travels, and he seeks thrills, and he loses himself among the cities, the mountains, and the sea. Michel tries to escape his own weakness by embracing the world around him. Even though he may hate himself, he loves the grand sites, and fun things like sex, driving, and debauchery. Patricia, on the other hand is always searching for some great truth to explain all of her problems, some answer to some question she doesn't even know, and because of this she questions everything, especially love, a phenomenon completely devoid of logic. Michel escapes by ignoring the "big questions" and following his impulses. Patricia escapes by focusing only on the big questions and trying to find answers to those very impulses Michel follows diligently.

In many of the reviews I read about Breathless, I noticed how many people seemed to see Michel as the weaker, more pathetic character, but I disagree. In the beginning Michel is as foolish, selfish, and insecure as he is made out to be, but In the end Michel realizes how futile his own situation is. His impulse (falling in love with Patricia) fails him, and his eyes are opened, and suddenly his life isn't all about escaping just to find the next girl, the next thrill. Michel wants to go to prison so he can avoid all the things he used to run to, so he can figure himself out a little bit. He's tired of being someone else. But Patricia never gets past her flaws. In the end she is still questioning her love, trying to find a logical way to "solve" it ("I treat you badly, therefore I must not love you."). She believes independence to be the answer to all her problems, but her real problem is her inability to connect with those around her, of focusing only on herself. Michel whispers his last words about scumbags, and Patricia's first reaction is to ask what a scumbag is. She does not do what the author said and believe in love. Instead she dissects love. She dissects everything, looking for the logical answer that isn't there.

I'm pretty sure this review is getting a little long, but I also want to mention that on the second viewing I found Breathless to be a beautiful movie. I greatly enjoyed the score, especially the moments of bombast and tensely jazzy sections. It's obvious that Godard was drawing from the American B-movies for influence, and I love all the imagery that seems to be influenced by film noir and Humprey Bogart without ever stealing from it or being too obvious. Even though Breathless always looks like it could be a thriller, it never is, and I think this worked wonderfully for the overall feel. Also, the Paris photography is excellent and paints a pretty great picture of the city without ever drawing on any of its landmarks.

And yet all that's just scratching the surface. I'm pretty sure you could write a pretty damn good college thesis just on all the different themes, styles, and references that Godard throws around in Breathless (And I'm sure someone has). Even though on my first viewing all these differences conflicted with each other, on my second viewing I found that they merged with each other into some sort of beautifully jagged masterpiece. A 9/10 for now, but definitely edging on a 10.


Tue Jul 21, 2009 2:11 am
Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
I saw this the other day and I'm not really sure if I like it or not. I feel the same way I did after I saw Pierrot Le Fou...........I don't think Goddard is for me. Sure he "experiments" within his movies if you will but it just doesn't work for me and like you said it's emotionally cold. NAIL ON THE HEAD


Sat Jul 25, 2009 1:54 pm
Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
I need to see this again. My girlfriend took me to see it for the first time as a surprise at an SF art cinema.

We both loved it and promptly bought the DVD

I much preferred it to my two recent Jean Luc Godard experiences "Contempt" and "Pierrot Le Fou"

Godard remains an enigma for me. He's revered but i have yet to really understand why.

Rob


Sat Jul 25, 2009 5:14 pm
Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
This is the only Godard movie I've seen, but I loved every second of it. I've since heard a lot of people describe his movies as "cold" or "detached" which has me a bit worried about his other movies. That said, I didn't find Breathless cold at all.

The film is certainly wonderful technically (it popularised the "jump cut") but what surprised me is how cool Jean-Paul Belmondo is as the deceitful, lip-rubbing, chain smoking lead. Have a look at Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde and tell me there's not a whole lot of Belmondo in Beatty's performance. Belmondo himself is channeling older Hollywood stars like Bogie, but I think he takes it up a level.


Sun Jul 26, 2009 10:10 pm
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Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
Breathless is WAY more accessible compared to some of Godard's other films, especially Pierrot le Fou. I saw Breathless first, and I'm glad that I did. That way, I will always be patient with Godard's films. If I had seen Pierrot first, I probably would have sworn to just forget him altogether.

Breathless is a very subtle film. It is easy to follow, it is interesting, and its amusing because its French. I thought the relationship between the two main characters was deep and nuanced. It is a film filled with deception and acceptance. Godard doesn't ask for much from his audience. Despite the dealings with the cops and being on the lam, this feels like a movie about the dealings of everyday life. Their relationship is calm and natural. And yet the end of the film has one of the most unforgettable scenes in all of cinema. Great movie.

9/10


Sun Jul 26, 2009 10:20 pm
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Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
I have seen 6 movies by Godard and he's the most frustrating major director i am aware of.

Breathless was wonderful

Alphaville was cold stark and fascinating

but the rest range from the self indulgent to unintelligible for me anyway

I want to like his work as a whole but am really struggling

Rob


Mon Jul 27, 2009 1:12 pm
Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
Regarding the jump cuts, at first they struck me as gimmicky and distracting. However, eventually they began to flow with the story and added a sense of almost surreal, timelessness which acts as a fine representation of the main characters' self-indulgence. In a sublime way time exists differently for them; it moves from one line of dialogue to the next with no rest for the subtleties of conversation. I think it's entirely fitting portrayal of the selfish ignorance of youth.

Hopefully that made sense. :)


Mon Jul 27, 2009 1:33 pm
Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
rblount27 wrote:
Regarding the jump cuts, at first they struck me as gimmicky and distracting. However, eventually they began to flow with the story and added a sense of almost surreal, timelessness which acts as a fine representation of the main characters' self-indulgence. In a sublime way time exists differently for them; it moves from one line of dialogue to the next with no rest for the subtleties of conversation. I think it's entirely fitting portrayal of the selfish ignorance of youth.

Hopefully that made sense. :)



i have read in multiple places that the jump cuts were influenced by Godard's need to reduce the length of the film.

It is strongly rumoured that he sought the help of Melville and between them they developed the final cut

Rob


Mon Jul 27, 2009 2:17 pm
Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
I'm giving fair warning to whomever comes across this post that the following is going to be lengthy and largely laudatory. I'm going to masturbate all over this sumbitch...with words. If you want my opinion of the movie without all the fluff and analysis, here it is:

I loved it. It is amazing.

If you want my opinion with all the fluff and with some analysis, here is that:

(Disclaimer: I promise no hacky, movie critic lines about how the film left me "breathless" after the screening. This movie is way too cool and good to be defiled in such a manner.)

Breathless functions as a wildly entertaining gangster/love story and as a deconstruction of the medium of film. It's an art film of the highest order, that manages to be consistently entertaining throughout.

You probably love the films of self-aware filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright. I do too. Those guys are really cool, right? The bee's knees, so to speak. Well, they both owe everything they do to Jean Luc-Godard. His debut pretty much laid the blueprint for self-aware, referential filmmaking. Influential doesn't do this one justice. Of course, influence alone doesn't make for a great film, does it? So, what makes Godard's film a Great Movie? Let's read on.

The film is aware of just about everything it is doing. Not in the sense that, "Hey, these things are happening and I realize it," but more in the way of, "This is what usually happens here in a movie, but this is what's going to happen in Breathless." From archetypes, to technical norms, to narrative conventions, the film is full of instances where the standard is pointed out and either embraced, poked fun at, or torn completely in half. Consider the opening frame - we see a man reading a newspaper (a newspaper, mind you, that eventually becomes a joke about convention) with a woman on the front page and a voiceover proclaiming what an awful person he is. Instantly, there is a disconnect between what we see and what we hear. Add to that, the scene is shot in close-up, not typically the opening shot of a film. Godard has intentionally drawn our attention to the oddness of what we see and hear. It isn't normal, or what we're accustomed to. He instantly begins acknowledging and rewriting the rules of cinema in the very first shot of the film.

This is an idea that populates the entire movie. Both through the technical aspects of the film and in the story/characters. The editing is the most obvious technical technique that defies convention. There are the infamous jump cuts that get rid of all the unnecessary fluff. When something isn't needed to tell the story, it just gets left on the cutting room floor. That's a pretty radical concept in the cause-and-effect sort of movies most audiences are used to. There's also Godard's resistance to the traditional ordering of shots within scenes. He uses very few, if any (can't remember, honestly), establishing shots, and the scenes themselves don't proceed in a normal manner. The ordering of the kinds of shots (long, medium, close-up) used is scattered and doesn't follow the traditional pattern of slowly getting closer to the action. There are also scenes shot in one lengthy, fluid take, that are in stark opposition to those non-traditional, helter skelter scenes. All of this amounts to an incredibly stylish film where you have no real clue as to how any scene will proceed. It confuses and sometimes disorients.

So, technical brilliance and convention defying - yawn-worthy, right? Sometimes. Actually, no, that's the kind of stuff I enjoy. You might not, though. So, what about the story itself makes the film great? Sorry to bore you with more sleep-inducing conventional vs. unconventional stuff, but that's where I'm starting. The film is essentialy straight out of an American B-movie studio. The plot, the characters, everything. The rough outline of the story is very, very conventional. Michel and Patricia seem like stock characters out of American films. The story follows a hood trying to escape from the police. Money, sex, and death are all heavily involved. There's convention after convention present all over the film. At the same time, we spend damn near 30 minutes on one scene between Michel and Patricia in her bedroom just chatting. They don't tell us anything particularly memorable or important. Sure, we get to know the two characters a little better, but is the plot really furthered by this scene? I say no. Then, there's the scene where Patricia goes to interview Parvulesco, played by Jean-Pierre Melville. In a film where jarring jump cutting has been used frequently to get around showing superfluous sections, it seems a bit odd to include Patricia's interview with the author. It doesn't really add anything to the plot of the film and doesn't seem essential to the proceedings. That is until you realize the opinions are coming from a real-life major French film director and he's speaking about the role of women in modern society. Is this just what's going on in Patricia's life in the film, or is it a comment on women in film? It's all very meta and kind of surreal. Again, as with the technical aspects of the film, there's a disconnect between what we would normally expect and what actually takes place. There's more confusion and disorientation. What does it all mean?

The whole gangster, life-on-the-run plotline serves the movie very little. I say it's only there because it's a familiar, well-worn trope that Godard and his contemporaries grew up watching. He can play with convention here, and that's all he needs. The story is also a bit of a character study/love story of the two main characters, Michel and Patricia. Michel isn't a person at all. He's slavishly bound by trying to be someone he isn't. He doesn't seem to have a goal in life other than to be as much like Bogey as possible. He's French, a criminal, and acts according to his whims. Patricia is American, a working professional, and acts according to logic. She needs answers to the questions she has to make sense of what's going on around her. In many ways, the two are polar opposites.

However, are the two really even in love? Aren't they just confusing sex with love? All Michel seems to care about is getting into Patricia's pants. They're in "movie love", not real love. That's where the whole film starts to circle back around. Michel and Patricia are essentially nothing but movie characters operating within a typical, structured movie world. They're bound by the screenplay, and their actions aren't their own. They essentially have no freedom. As the film progresses, and Godard's technical breaking down of conventions becomes more apparent, Michel begins to realize this. By the end of the film he's realized the futility of his former ways and is tired of his life. His character, or archetype, realizes there is freedom to be had. He's no longer bound by the screenplay, just as Godard has shown through his breaking of technical conventions that he's no longer bound by the conventions of traditional cinema. It's as if the French, through Michel, are breaking away from the traditions they slavishly adhered to set forth by the Americans, represented by Patricia. Patricia is confused as to what Michel's last words mean, because she doesn't understand the decision (and its implications) that Michel just made.

So, while within the framework of the story Patricia and Michel fail at love because Patricia has a burning need to have everything explained for her through logic, the whole thing is really just an allegory for Godard to explore how filmmakers shouldn't be bound by logical, cause-and-effect cinema. He liberates his characters and gives them the freedom he advocates and uses through his technical convention defying. He's confused and disoriented us intentionally just to show that movies shouldn't be bound by the expected. Sure, some of it makes little sense, but Godard pulls it off by making the overall narrative have some semblance of making sense. I don't know how the fuck he does it, but the film just works on the surface. Underneath all that there's an entirely different film about the state of filmmaking. You can see why it's regarded as the quintessential French New Wave film, because it's basically the mission statement for the entire movement.

There's really a lot more to delve into with the film, but I'm cutting myself off here. It's an amazing, deep, layered, film.


Mon Jul 12, 2010 3:04 pm
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Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
Just to offer a counter-point...

Breathless is an incredibly dated film from an era where jump-cuts = revolutionary filmmaking. Its hackneyed plot offers very little of interest, it feels long at 90 minutes, suffers from weak acting by Jean Seberg, and is only worth watching as a piece of history rather than as a moviegoing experience.

Was it an important film? Yep, but it's a slog. Gimme Truffaut over Godard any day

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Mon Jul 12, 2010 3:23 pm
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Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
JamesKunz wrote:
Just to offer a counter-point...

Breathless is an incredibly dated film from an era where jump-cuts = revolutionary filmmaking. Its hackneyed plot offers very little of interest, it feels long at 90 minutes, suffers from weak acting by Jean Seberg, and is only worth watching as a piece of history rather than as a moviegoing experience.

Was it an important film? Yep, but it's a slog. Gimme Truffaut over Godard any day


Ehhh, more of a differing opinion than a counter-point. You didn't really refute anything I said, other than to say you disagree. Simply stating your opinion doesn't really qualify as a point.


Mon Jul 12, 2010 3:39 pm
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Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
PeachyPete wrote:
JamesKunz wrote:
Just to offer a counter-point...

Breathless is an incredibly dated film from an era where jump-cuts = revolutionary filmmaking. Its hackneyed plot offers very little of interest, it feels long at 90 minutes, suffers from weak acting by Jean Seberg, and is only worth watching as a piece of history rather than as a moviegoing experience.

Was it an important film? Yep, but it's a slog. Gimme Truffaut over Godard any day


Ehhh, more of a differing opinion than a counter-point. You didn't really refute anything I said, other than to say you disagree. Simply stating your opinion doesn't really qualify as a point.


Normally you'd be right, however, if the opinion in question is correct then it is a point ;)

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Mon Jul 12, 2010 4:14 pm
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Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
JamesKunz wrote:
Normally you'd be right, however, if the opinion in question is correct then it is a point ;)


Touche, sir.

Seriously though, I've never been a big advocate of the "it feels dated and no longer revolutionary" line of thought. It seems unfair to criticize a movie that was revolutionary for its time as no longer revolutionary because what it popularized has been so overused today. To me, it's like comparing sports teams from different eras. I don't think movies or sports are meant to be judged against anything but their contemporaries.

Granted, I get the criticism, but is it the movie's fault that other filmmakers thought the jump cut was so good that they just had to use it? Imitation is the highest form of flattery, no?


Mon Jul 12, 2010 4:44 pm
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Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
PeachyPete wrote:
Seriously though, I've never been a big advocate of the "it feels dated and no longer revolutionary" line of thought. It seems unfair to criticize a movie that was revolutionary for its time as no longer revolutionary because what it popularized has been so overused today. To me, it's like comparing sports teams from different eras. I don't think movies or sports are meant to be judged against anything but their contemporaries.


I like what you're saying and think it has a lot of merit, but at the same time I've got some points to make. If the movie is substantial, the fact that it doesn't feel revolutionary any longer is irrelevant. I think Avatar will hold up as a superior piece of entertainment over the years, regardless of whether the 3D aspect becomes passe. But Breathless isn't a terribly interesting movie. Its purported greatness comes from the fact that it was a familiar story told in a new way (though, in all fairness, you could level that claim about Avatar too). You yourself admit the central storyline is fairly mundane. So why is it a great movie? If you find it inherently great, that's fine, but if all Breathless has to advertise it is the fact that it felt fresh in 1960, well you gotta do better than that to be a great film. Great movies hold up. The Jazz Singer is a terrible film, its place in history notwithstanding. Citizen Kane is one of the best movies ever made, despite its deep-focus photography not being that novel anymore.

As to the second part of your quote--about judging movies against their contemporaries--that's all fine and good, but they're still judged by you or me in the present. We can't ignore 50 years of movie history. So I'll compare Breathless to The 400 Blows (not, say, Natural Born Killers) and still conclude that Breathless is dated, boring, and overhyped.

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Mon Jul 12, 2010 5:05 pm
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Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
JamesKunz wrote:
I like what you're saying and think it has a lot of merit, but at the same time I've got some points to make. If the movie is substantial, the fact that it doesn't feel revolutionary any longer is irrelevant. I think Avatar will hold up as a superior piece of entertainment over the years, regardless of whether the 3D aspect becomes passe. But Breathless isn't a terribly interesting movie. Its purported greatness comes from the fact that it was a familiar story told in a new way (though, in all fairness, you could level that claim about Avatar too). You yourself admit the central storyline is fairly mundane. So why is it a great movie? If you find it inherently great, that's fine, but if all Breathless has to advertise it is the fact that it felt fresh in 1960, well you gotta do better than that to be a great film. Great movies hold up. The Jazz Singer is a terrible film, its place in history notwithstanding. Citizen Kane is one of the best movies ever made, despite its deep-focus photography not being that novel anymore.


I get what you're saying here, but the reason I find Breathless great is separate from the revolutionary tactics it used and its freshness circa 1960. That makes it influential and important, but not necessarily great. I made that point in my initial post, but that thing is way too long and rambling, so I forgive your oversight. Either way, I completely agree with you here.

I think it's a great movie on its own merits. For instance, the central storyline is pretty mundane. However, I don't see that as a fault. I see it as Godard using that as a framework to accomplish larger artistic goals. He purposefully chose a worn out genre in order to play with and defy convention. I don't think he could have accomplished what the film accomplishes with a more original story. So yes, while the central story isn't captivating or all that compelling, I see that as a strength because I saw it as a conscious choice used to further the artistic ambitions of the film. Again, on its own merits.

JamesKunz wrote:
As to the second part of your quote--about judging movies against their contemporaries--that's all fine and good, but they're still judged by you or me in the present. We can't ignore 50 years of movie history. So I'll compare Breathless to The 400 Blows (not, say, Natural Born Killers) and still conclude that Breathless is dated, boring, and overhyped.


I'm not advocating ignoring 50 years of movie history. My point is that it seems a little unfair to hold Breathless' revolutionary status against it. The reason it may seem dated is because in the past 50 years filmmakers have used and worn out the technical innovations the film popularized. That's no fault of Godard's or his film. It's the fault of other filmmakers and their films. The blame is being placed in the wrong place here. Fault those who overused and wore out the jump cut, not Godard for inventing it.

As for finding it boring, there's not much I can dispute there. I disagree, but I'm not silly enough to sit here and say you're wrong for finding something boring.


Tue Jul 13, 2010 8:47 am
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Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
Cool cool Pete. Always fun to debate with you. Except that one time during our fracas over Night of the Hunter where you got really angry at me :)

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Tue Jul 13, 2010 9:45 am
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Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
JamesKunz wrote:
Cool cool Pete. Always fun to debate with you. Except that one time during our fracas over Night of the Hunter where you got really angry at me :)


Indeed.

And yeah, I was a dick that day. Ever since then though, I've thought you were one of the coolest cats on the forum. Weird how that works. You know how they say, whoever they may be, that sometimes when two guys get into a fistfight, they end up better friends afterwards? Maybe e-squabbles work the same way?


Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:46 am
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Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
PeachyPete wrote:
And yeah, I was a dick that day. Ever since then though, I've thought you were one of the coolest cats on the forum. Weird how that works. You know how they say, whoever they may be, that sometimes when two guys get into a fistfight, they end up better friends afterwards? Maybe e-squabbles work the same way?


Thanks Pete. You're also in my favorite forum friends list. I think though it wasn't so much our argument that brought us closer together (no homo :D ) but the fact that you apologized for taking it too far afterwards like the all-around standup guy that you are. By the way, was it with you that I had that argument over what defined a "genre film" in which I contradicted myself like 4 times?

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Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:57 am
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Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
JamesKunz wrote:
Thanks Pete. You're also in my favorite forum friends list. I think though it wasn't so much our argument that brought us closer together (no homo :D ) but the fact that you apologized for taking it too far afterwards like the all-around standup guy that you are. By the way, was it with you that I had that argument over what defined a "genre film" in which I contradicted myself like 4 times?


Yes, that was another one of our arguments. We seem to get into every so often, which I'm completely cool with. We both take the time to think about and craft our opinions, and we enjoy deabting and defending them. I actually love debating all kinds of opinions, but sometimes it's tough because people take it personally. As The Night of the Hunter thread showed, I'm not above doing that from time to time, either.


Tue Jul 13, 2010 1:13 pm
Post Re: 33 Breathless 1959
Who knew Godard could inspire such wub? Now I hate to butt into this intimate moment, but I take issue with the only point you two managed to agree on: that the story of Breathless is boring/ordinary/whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it.

Of course, I come with no evidence to refute your claims but am only here to offer a differing opinion. I loved the plot. That's what sucked me in. It's only afterwards that I considered the technical brilliance and what Godard was trying to do.

This is one of the 30-something movies I've given a 10/10 to. I would never have gone so high if the central plot wasn't so interesting. Sure, it owes a massive debt to earlier American crime movies and Belmondo is definitely channelling Bogart, but I think Breathless also changed the future of American cinema. Look at Bonnie and Clyde and tell me that Beatty wasn't inspired by Belmondo. Sure, he's Bogie by proxy, but without Belmondo as the middle-man this cooler-than-cool type gangster role wouldn't have become what it did.


Tue Jul 13, 2010 2:03 pm
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