Wednesday, September 14, 2011

#198: Breathless

It is an irony of sorts that I am yet to review a Godard movie thus far on this blog. After all, any film student worth his salt has a certain amount of reverence towards Godard who has often been regarded one of the most influential filmmakers in history. Breathless, made in 1960 was his most acclaimed work and starred Jean-Paul Belmondo as a drifter whose sole purpose in life is to move to Italy and live easy with his girlfriend. Most top-100 films list are likely to have Breathless included for its path breaking content. After all, it was supposed to be Godard's definitive stamp on the French New Wave. As a film critic working for Cahiers Du Cinema, Godard had formed his own radical views on shot-taking and direction and in the company of Chabrol, Melville, Truffaut he found a set of people who encouraged him to take his own path. The result was a style of filmmaking that would resonate amongst movie lovers for years to come.

Breathless is the story of Michael (Belmondo), a petty thief who roams around the city committing crimes with no planning and no regrets. He is hanging around in Paris even after committing a murder because he needs to get back some money from a friend. His simple plan is to collect the money and move to Italy with his American girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg). Patricia is not entirely happy with Michael's ways but plays along with his romantic advances. Breathless, co-written by Truffaut and Godard, in terms of a genre is a mix of romantic comedy and a thriller. With the cops in hot pursuit of Michael, the screenplay does interest us in knowing if his move to Italy is going to come off as planned.

Visually filmed with a host of new techniques, none more radical than the inventive use of jump-cuts, Breathless is indeed a pretty film to watch. Belmondo as the vagabond is as desultory as the character required him to be. It seems the only thing he is concerned about is Patricia and apart from her he wouldn't care much about anything else around him. Jean Seberg's beautiful presence is a wonderful contrast to Belmondo's recklessness on the streets of Paris. She is level-headed, attractive and independent. During the course of the movie, it is her character that you don't want to come any harm to. The parts where Michael is by himself either working out his plan to escape to Italy or even going about his joblessness on the streets of Paris are slickly done. The film picks up its intent quickly in the last ten minutes and its ending is a masterstoke by Godard. My problem with Breathless however is its long portions that could've been more snappy. For instance, the exchanges between Michale and Patricia turn out to be quite tedious and boring after a while.

I had seen Le Mepris and Detective before watching Breathless and I must say that the first two movies quite deflated the faith I had placed in Godard as a director. I thought both those movies were tiresome and the only thing they had going for themselves was a style quotient. And when I say this, I know I am even taking a risk of not being considered seriously but for me Breathless just about managed to save Godard from being blacklisted in my book. If one talks about directors about the New Wave, I am a Melville loyalist and I didn't see any such brilliance in Breathless. As a matter of fact, the supposedly revolutionary usage of jump-cuts themselves were suggested by Melville. Coming back to this review, Breathless is indeed an uninhibited piece of filmmaking. It has a gay abandon about itself that I found quite charming and watchable. On whether its making into my top-100 films list, I think that would be a resounding no.

Rating: 6.4/10

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