Director: Jean-Luc Godard.
Writers: Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard (based on an idea by Francois Truffaut).
Principal cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg and Daniel Boulanger.
Release date: 13th September 2010 – Blu-ray.
Thief Michael Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is on the run after murdering a police officer and as the net closes in on the small time criminal he heads towards Paris, taking refuge with former girlfriend and American Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg) whilst being pursued by the authorities.
Along with Francois Truffaut (who co-wrote the screenplay), Godard emerged as one of the pioneers of the new wave of cinema that hit France in the late 1950’s. Although heavily influenced by American film culture, Godard’s movies would be new with a distinct European identity whilst influencing how films would be made ever since.
Why would a standard thief on the run movie be considered as a genre changing classic of cinema? Because with Ã€ bout de soufflÃ© (Breathless) Godard threw the formula out of the window and provided something new (mixing a sense of realism with pulpish film noir whilst being at odds with the traditional studio style of making movies).
The film is shot in black and white combining a sharp/quick editing style between and during scenes resulting in an almost documentary realism. The characters are not glamorised at any point nor is there any back story provided.
Godard provides an almost voyeur set of proceedings as we watch three individuals (thief, love interest and detective) play out proceedings in a realistic but still glamorised setting(through the use of Parisian street settings, French chic and a then contemporary soundtrack).
Poiccard (Belmondo) is an outsider, never an anti-hero the film does allow us to be become fascinated by him and how far he can manage to survive before the net closes in on him. The character’s fascination with Humphrey Bogart is not only a nod to Godard’s American influences but also cements Poiccard as someone at odds with the establishment like many of Bogart’s characters.
As former contacts in the underworld shun him and his attention turns to Patricia (Seberg), we never truly know what his true intentions towards her are (just a safe haven or an attempt to re-kindle something lost prior to a possible impending doom?).
Likewise, Patricia motivations are never fully revealed and we never know her true feelings towards Poiccard, whether she is embracing his risky style of living, flirting with it or just biding time prior to a way out. As an American actress in a European movie, Seberg provides a sexy but almost tom boyish feel to the role as well as a touch of glamour (at this point Seberg was a relative newcomer having been plucked from obscurity to star in Otto Preminger’s 1957 movie St. Joan based on the life of the Maid of Orleans).
Fine support is given by Daniel Boulanger as the Police Detective on the trail of Poiccard and there is even a nod towards Hitchcock as Godard makes his own director cameo.
The film’s influence would be felt throughout the 1960;s and 70’s and can be seen in such American classics such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Badlands (1973) and even in Scorsese’s New York 70’s classics.
Breathless arrives on Blu-ray just late of it’s 50th Anniversary via Optimum’s Studio Canal Collection. The restored print has a suitably grainy almost documentary feel to it with vivid blacks and an improved resolution over it’s DVD predecessor.
After half a century, Ã€ bout de soufflÃ© (Breathless) remains slick and sexy, taking American film culture and adding a Gallic flair with very stylish results. If you have never seen the film, it is indeed something to try and the perfect introduction to the French and European cinema of the 1960’s.