Saturday, January 28, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "BREATHLESS"

BREATHLESS (1960)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard based on the story by Francois Truffaut



I have run into a problem here. In order to first explain to you “Breathless” (aka A Bout de Souffle), and it’s importance and essentiality, you first must have a film trivia book, then a film history book, and then you must be an expert in film production and film production techniques, as well as probably a storytelling through screenplays guide, and than once you have mastered all of this, you’ll have to forget every bit of it, than you’ll be ready for the work of Jean-Luc Godard. In case you’re wondering, I’m almost there. Not there yet, but I’m close. Godard, a former film critic, along with Francois Truffaut, for the French Periodical “Cahier du Cinema,” tried to raise the level of film as an art form for by reviewing films under the Auteur Theory. (To all non-cinephiles out there, basically what that means is that they were the first people to declare that the director is the author of a film, so they studied directors like Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston as though they were studying the novels of Charles Dickens) Afterwards they became filmmakers themselves, and are now considered two of the leaders of the “French New Wave.” (That takes too long to explain, just look that up on your own time) Beginning first with Truffaut’s autobiographical “The 400 Blows,” and Godard’s tongue-and-cheek anti-crime thriller, “Breathless,” along with other such filmmakers as Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and even earlier works from Jean-Pierre Melville (who has a cameo in “Breathless,” playing himself), would revolutionize filmmaking all across the world.

To tell you the story of the film would be to tell you what one would think are the important points of the film, but Godard isn’t that interested in what would normally be underlined in a movie like this, even though he makes it very clear to us that we are watching a movie. The movie begins with our-… well,  I about to say protagonist, or antagonist, or hero, but neither one of those fit. Michel (French movie star, Jean-Paul Belmondo), dresses in oversized sunglasses and cigarettes, along with his Bogart hat, who he obsesses over steals a car, looks directly into the camera and tells us what he loves about France, and then tells us to “get stuffed.” At least that’s how it’s translated in the subtitles, but that’s not exactly what he tells us to do to ourselves. Then he pulls over, and shoots a chasing cop with a gun he finds in a glove department. This could be a half-hour of film. Instead, it’s about two minutes, and then he allows for twenty minute segments of a conversation between him and one of his girlfriends, an American Sorbonne student, Patricia (Jean Seberg), who sells copies of the New York Herald-Tribune along the Champs-Elysse. The conversation isn’t much important, even when she says she thinks she’s pregnant, it barely a plot point, if you can call it that at all. She says something he tries to get her to sleep with him, and that’s the gist of the conversation.   
           
The influential jump-cutting of scenes to speed up the film and give it a jagged, detached feeling has inspired dozens of filmmakers. (You can directly link Godard to Guy Ritchie.) Yet, the editing was a last second decision, just done to shorten the film’s length. The movie can be considered a comedy if one chooses, there’s certainly enough jokes, including many movie posters and references to other films. Even Michel’s alias Laszlo Kovacs, is a reference to an earlier film character of his. Godard loves movies, and here he celebrates all the conventions of the typical gangster movie, but breaks every one of those rules. Michel isn’t the Bogart-like gangster who always gets away. He’s an average thug, with little moral value, who is only casually aware that cops would be after him for killing a cop. Notice Godard play a small part in the film as an informer. He see Michel’s picture in the paper, and then he sees him in the car, and then tells the police. He’s literally leading his character to his demise in his own film. It’s known that Godard improvised many shots on the day of shooting, even shooting in the middle of a busy street, but don’t think Godard doesn’t realize what he’s doing. With Godard, it’s not so much what happens in his films, but it’s how he decides to tell the story.
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