Thursday, 11 February 2016

I've Just Seen: Breathless (A bout de Souffle) (1960)

Breathless (A bout de Souffle) (1960)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

My feelings about the French New Wave are mixed. I can see how their introduction of new and different film techniques was important, and their influence is still observable over fifty years later. I also appreciate the light-hearted tone of some of the films. Truffaut's The 400 Blows is the one I have enjoyed the most (so far), and one of the reasons for that is the character of Antoine, whose listlessness mixed with childish youth made for interesting viewing.

I am not at all a cool person, and Godard's film is renown for its coolness, so I wondered if I would have the same reaction I have had to other 'cool' films; that of being simply an observer, detached from the film's detachment. My prediction was correct, and even more so, as the characters, especially Michel, rather got on my nerves (though not as much as the three leads in Jules et Jim).

The film doesn't probe into the characters of Michel and Patricia, and had little of a plot. This is not always an issue, but unlike the apparently plotless 400 Blows, I didn't care about the two main characters and what happened to them. Surface is what we are presented with, and though it is often beautiful to look at, and playful in its approach, after the film ended I found it hadn't touched me.

It is good to have crossed off another biggie of film history, and see the challenge to established, traditional cinema; breaking the rules can work. I am just not much of a rule-breaker.


  1. You're not alone. As you discovered, I have more personal reasons for appreciating this film. While I appreciate some of the style elements of the French New Wave (the jazzy noir-ish Elevator to the Gallows springs to mind), the style as a whole comes across to me as a lot of style over substance. It's a big pile of pretty, decorated frosting without a great deal of cake underneath it, with Godard as the main frosting maker. There are a few good Godard films to come for you, but I think he's overrated in general.

    And yes, I kind of feel the same way about Truffaut. I always want to like his films more than I actually like them (with an exception here or there--in addition to The 400 Blows, Day for Night is pretty great). There's an aura to Godard and some of the other FNW directors that feels more like "look at how avant garde I am! I'm French!" than it does "I have made something important." Rules may be meant to be broken, but you have to know the rules well to understand how to break them well.

    1. Very glad to know I am not the only one!

      Regarding your 'look how avant garde I am!', it reminded me of the Good Doctor Mark Kermode reviewing a recent Godard film:

  2. I am mighty happy to find that I am not alone on this position. I contantly had this feeling that I was missing something, that this is a lot better than I thought it was, because, hey, this is Godard and the whole French thing is so celebrated by critics. Now, reading yours and others impressions I am not so sure I missed anything. It is like Steve writes, a lot of frosting and little cake.
    I remember watching Alphaville a few years back and having a massive WTF moment. It is not as bad in Breathless, but not so far off either. At least it makes sense even if I cannot get involved.

    1. I had the same feeling as you, and I was worried that I had missed something. I'll be interested to see what you make of Contempt, the only Godard I can say I liked (so far); though the ending is again a WTF moment. I have watched Alphaville, and the only reason I havent't written about it is that I don't really know what to say, except again I felt at sea.