The fact that an artist writes boringly to convey boredom, or childishly to convey puerility, has no effect on the resultant work not being boring nor puerile. Self-awareness of a flaw does not alleviate the flaw. For this to not be true intent in art would have to matter, meaning that all art would necessarily have to be accompanied by a detailed explanation of itself and its conception by the artists, which would therefore render the idea of the art as its own best explanation worthless. Naturally, this would rent the very essence of the artwork.
Yet, in recent decades there has been the reflexive notion, usually tossed about by bad artists, that intent is almost all in art, or even that it supersedes actual accomplishment. This results in defenses of bad works of art that inevitably rely on defending the art's intent, not its success in following through on that intent. This has been championed by the 'first thought, best thought' Beatniks of the 1950s, modern Postmodernist thought, and in the 1960s New Wave of French cinema. One of the leading lights of that 'movement' was Jean-Luc Godard, whose first film, Breathless (A Bout de Soufflé- literally, The End Of Breath- 1960), made him a directing superstar. While one cannot dispute the historic import of such a film, historic import has never been equivalent to artistic excellence, and Breathless is a horribly dated film. Yet, even were it not so dated, it would still be a bad film because it is so self-conscious, so poorly written, and so poorly acted, that I thought I was watching a Roger Corman cheapo horror film. Let me state, however, that there is more 'art' in your typical Corman piece from that era, say The Last Woman On Earth, because its commentary on the state of film-making and art was more subtle, if often unintentional. Godard, by contrast, is so garishly dying to show his audience how hip and intellectual he is that he somehow forgot to put any of that, nor substance, into his film.
He attempts to capture 'reality' on film without realizing that anything filmed becomes unreal, or irreal, as opposed to surreal. Thus, the art of film, or any art, can NEVER be real, and to convey reality most aptly, it needs to be most affected. Godard, by shooting his film with hand-held camera, as Parisians gawk at the filming in process, thus makes the most artificial of films, even as he tries to show the most boring aspects of life, glossing over crimes and 'deep' moments that other films contain, to show the dull times. He thus gets the two worst aspects of film- the 'artificiality' of cinema verité and the reality of dull life, rather than the two best: the 'reality' of film as artifice and the artifice of poetically chosen reality.
What little story the tale has starts abruptly. It is an odd start, but not unlike many bad 1950s kids' television shows, nor contemporaneous B horror films like Carnival Of Souls. A hood named Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) steals a car in Marseilles and drives to Paris. On his way there, he is stopped for speeding and shoots a policeman. This goes by so quickly and without explanation that the viewer cannot empathize with him. Once in Paris, he needs to get money from a friend and flirts with an American female student named Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg) he has had an affair with. They wax in and out of fancy with one another, and on it goes
. Across the pond, in America, at the time Breathless was being filmed, John Cassavetes was also making his feature film debut as a director, with Shadows, and although there is an amateurish quality to some aspects of that film, and it was not nearly praised as highly as Breathless, it was much less amateurish than this film, and holds up far better today, as a 'realist' piece of film-making. Breathless, by contrast, can only be defended as a historical curio, not artistically on its own merits, which is exactly what virtually all online essays that defend it do. Cassavetes' first film, by contrast, stands alone, and his usage of overlapping and realistic dialogue, not culled nor self-consciously quoted from Hollywood film dialogue, is far better than Godard's, which was stillborn when fellow auteur Francois Truffaut abandoned the screenplay to Godard. Godard captured none of the film noir joie de vivre that he hoped to, while Cassavetes brought American real life dialogue to the screen at the same time. Godard's characters never utter a believable line of dialogue. It is all a put on, for Michel is no more a gangster type than Belmondo- the actor who plays him, is, nor even Humphrey Bogart- the actor Michel imitates throughout the film. This is seen by apologists, however, as the film's style, although this so-called style is really stylelessness, and that is no more artistic than claiming formless Dave Eggersian puerility as a writing style
.Later filmmakers went leagues beyond Godard, and actually demanded their innovations serve the film's tale, rather than merely being a piece of self-indulgence a haphazard and wan tale is draped over. With no good execution, no real depth, nor character development, what was intended as satire becomes, instead, awkward and obvious imitation, not witty enough for comedy, and more resembling something like film noir lite.
John Cassavetes was doing similar things in America, but doing them much better, for his filmic improvisations never came across as 'improvisations', but 'reality'. In short, for all the claims to the contrary, this film, at least, does not reveal a unique innovator in his art form, but an old Romantic masquing as a hipster, and wildly cobbling together a Frankensteinian mess. In America we call that person a poseur. In France they apparently call them geniuses
.just like, um, Jerry Lewis.
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