Thursday, 25 March 2010

Informers Inform, Burglars Burgle, Murderers Murder and Lovers Love.

Aah, Breathless (À bout de souffle.) You iconic piece of cinema, you. There is so much about Breathless that keeps me coming back for more, fifty years after the film released, close to a decade after I first saw it. As one of the defining films of the French New Wave, that period of cinematic awesomeness (yes, I just said 'awesomeness') that began in the late-50s and early 60s with films like Truffaut's The 400 Blows and Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour, both from 1959, Breathless helped to bring recognition and acclaim to the movement from around the world. What is it about the film? There are so many things. I once wrote a paper on it, in fact. I could go on for hours. But I won't. I'm going to break it down in simple terms.

Petty criminal Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is on the run from the cops after doing something a little more than petty - shooting a police officer. His American girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg) hides him, not knowing the extent of his crimes. The two romp around Paris for a while before Patricia gives him away. Resigned to his fate, Michel then decides to flee, bringing about the beautiful and tragic final protracted death scene.

That's the basic plot out of the way. Director Jean-Luc Godard helped to revolutionise film with the success of this film. Sure, he wasn't the first to use the idea of jump cuts (it's been years since I saw it, but didn't The 400 Blows also use them in the scene where Jean-Pierre Léaud is being interviewed by the principal or whatever it was also feature them? I might be wrong), but here they were so informative to the narrative, so strong in their purpose, so noticeable in how they were used.

Yes, Godard wasn't the first director to 'take it to the streets', as it were. In fact, this whole concept of taking it to the streets was one of the defining motivations behind the French New Wave. As a rebuttal to the stagnant studio system, the freedom of smaller cameras and running around shooting without lights with a handheld camera on the streets of Paris was pretty much the whole idea - freeing you up to work with very little money, anyone you wanted to work with, anywhere you wanted to do it, with the flexibility to adapt and change as you went along. A truly dynamic notion that works initially before ego and power gets in the way (a problem with virtually all New Wave movements, especially ones based on simplicity), within France this gave us the work of some truly incredible directors - lets add Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette to the few already mentioned.

As a film goes, the film is excellent regardless, entertaining, gripping, stylish but lo-fi relatable. Belmondo and Seberg pull off their roles with aplomb, and the few supports give their own little individual flair. It looks terrific, with cinematographer Raoul Coutard taking Godard's brief for a reportage style film seriously and giving the fictional tale a similar reality to that which held Close-Up thirty years later. 5 stars.

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