A small-time thief steals a car and impulsively murders a motorcycle policeman. Wanted by the authorities, he reunites with a hip American journalism student and attempts to persuade her to run away with him to Italy.
Michel Poiccard, an irresponsible sociopath and small-time thief, steals a car and impulsively murders the motorcycle policeman who pursues him. Now wanted by the authorities, he renews his relationship with Patricia Franchini, a hip American girl studying journalism at the Sorbonne, whom he had met in Nice a few weeks earlier. Before leaving Paris, he plans to collect a debt from an underworld acquaintance and expects her to accompany him on his planned getaway to Italy. Even with his face in the local papers and media, Poiccard seems oblivious to the dragnet that is slowly closing around him as he recklessly pursues his love of American movies and libidinous interest in the beautiful American. Written by
When critics or viewers praise a film only because it was technically innovative when it was made ... beware. It may mean that the film has either minimal entertainment value or minimal thematic content. Such is indeed the case with "Breathless", a film noted for the director's willingness to break rules of traditional cinema. This film is far more improvised, more off-the-cuff, then "staged" films made in years prior to 1960.
The story, about an unlikeable cad who romances a young woman in Paris, is dull as dishwater. It has no thematic depth. The script treatment, written by Francois Truffaut a year or two before Jean-Luc Godard filmed the movie, is used more or less as the basis for the plot and the dialogue, sans screenplay. And it shows!
Characters are not well thought out. Our cad is a killer and a petty thief who smokes a lot. He's also obnoxious. At one point he looks directly into the camera and tells viewers: "If you don't like ... then get stuffed!" The young woman is unremarkable in every way, apart from her unisex hairdo, which may have been chic in 1960; today it looks atrocious.
Likewise, the film's improvised dialogue is horrible. At one point the cad asks the young woman: "Why are you looking at me?" Her response: "Because I'm looking at you". And then later, the woman says "Well, I don't know yet whether I love you". The cad asks: "When will you know?" She responds: "Soon". He asks: "What does soon mean? In a month, a year?" She answers "Soon means soon". Submit a screenplay to a studio these days with dialogue like that, and see what happens.
Casting and acting are mediocre and bland. The two main roles are not demanding. The film's production design conveys the impression that Godard was trying to appeal to an audience of haughty sophisticates. Thus, we get an artist's studio, convertible sports cars, and lots of cigarette smoking. The background music is mostly light jazz, and when combined with the costumes, production design, and hairstyles makes the film seem very dated.
Maybe "Breathless" was Godard's way of breaking through as a major film director in 1960, specifically by thumbing his nose at Hollywood film directors from previous decades. And there's some merit to that. But I'm viewing this film in 2009, not 1960; and I'm a viewer, not a film director. A film that has nothing to offer but innovation, invisible to the viewer, runs the risk of being time bound, imprisoned in its own era.
And I have no doubt that "Breathless" was technically innovative. As such, it's a film that deserves to be read about in film history books, and seen by film historians and film students. But as entertainment for a general audience decades after it was made, and in its overall thematic content, it has little or nothing to offer.
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