Overview: A car thief is on the run from the police and tries to convince a girl to run away with him. UGC. 1960. Unrated. 90 Minutes.
Place in Film History: Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless is one of the spearheads of the French New Wave film movement of the late 1950’s and 1960’s. It featured the breakout role of the movement’s biggest star, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and several technical innovations that the period is famous for.
The Leads: Jean-Paul Belmondo is the most famous French leading man of his time. He stars in Breathless as the car thief Michel Poiccard. Belmondo portrays Poiccard with a smooth and debonair aura. He is always trying to slyly get his way with words, coolly smoking a cigarette, and generally carrying himself with a certain charm.
His counterpart Jean Seberg plays Patricia Franchini, Poiccard’s love interest. The beautiful Seberg plays eloquently off of Belmondo, and their conversations and interactions are the most interesting part of the film.
Innovations: Breathless was the first film to use the jump cut technique extensively. For viewers not familiar with the technique, a jump cut is a cut where two scenes are cut together that only vary in camera position slightly, which gives the effect of a quick passage in time and can be jarring to the viewer’s eye. This technique creates a distinctive look to scenes that sacrifices its continuity, which some filmmakers prefer. The technique is most notable in the film during a scene with the two leads riding through Paris in a convertible.
Watch This Movie If: You enjoy the films of Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, or Michel Gondry, whose films all show influences from the French New Wave.
Home Video Options: This film is available in the Criterion Collection (Spine #408). The release includes many extras including a new restoration, video essay, a documentary about the making of the film, and a Godard short film.
Final Thoughts: Breathless is an innovative and influential film. It is a fun watch and an interesting opportunity to see Belmondo’s charming screen presence and the French New Wave’s signatures.