Breathless is a 1960 film directed by Jean-Luc Godard, in his feature filmmaking debut. Its original French title is "À bout de souffle" which translates literally to "at breath's end" with the general meaning being "out of breath." Along with François Truffaut's The 400 Blows and Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour, it gained attention for the French New Wave. It is also seen as one of the very first examples of Neo Noir, as it openly acknowledges and plays around with several common Film Noir tropes.
The basic plot is fairly simple, seasoned by Godard with pop-cultural meta-commentary and Paris travelogue. Petty criminal Michel steals a car and, seeing that a policeman is following him on motorcycle, shoots the cop. He then flees to Paris and hides out with his American girlfriend.
Breathless made an international star of former boxer Jean-Paul Belmondo and raised the profile of Jean Seberg, whose Hollywood career had stalled when she starred in the big budget flop Saint Joan.
Tropes associated with Breathless include:
- Bilingual Dialogue: One sequence has Patricia and an unnamed man conversing in a cafe. The conversation switches from English to French and back to English again on a dime.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Godard doesn't go as crazy with it here as much as in later films like Le Weekend, but Michel frequently talks to the camera/audience.
- The Cameo: Jean-Pierre Melville plays the writer Parvulescu who is insiped by Vladimir Nabokov.
- Character Tics: Michel moves his thumb across his lips multiple times to appear badass, as well as a Shout-Out to Humphrey Bogart's role in The Maltese Falcon.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Michel can certainly come off as one at times. His drive through the countryside at the beginning of the film is charmingly bizarre, to say the least.
- Creator Cameo: Godard shows up briefly as an informant.
- Foreign Remake : Was remade in 1983 into an American film starring Richard Gere. Not well known and its critical reputation is dismal.
- Hassle-Free Hotwire: It takes about five seconds for Michel to hotwire the car that he steals at the start of the movie.
- I Just Want to Be Badass: Deconstructed with Michel, who tries hard to be one but isn't much more than a low-rank criminal, which leads towards his quick and grotesque downfall.
- The Ingenue: The last image of the film is of the girl looking into the camera and saying, innocently, "What does it mean, 'disgusting'?" (She's speaking in French, which is not her first language.)
- Jump Cut: The movie helped popularize them. However, they weren't done because of stylistic choice as much as the fact that Goddard needed to shorten the picture, so he got rid of frames randomly. Or so he claimed.
- Ripped from the Headlines: The film was loosely based on a newspaper article that François Truffaut read in The News in Brief. Michel Poiccard was based on real-life Michel Portail and his American girlfriend and journalist Beverly Lynette. In November 1952 Portail stole a car to visit his sick mother in Le Havre and ended up killing a motorcycle cop named Grimberg.
- Rule of Cool: Godard always adheres to this rule.
- Seinfeldian Conversation: This being a Godard work, this movie's filled with them. Michel and his girl talk about the most random things, even when in bed....
- Smoking Is Cool: Michel clearly thinks so, although some viewers may be put off by the detail with which burning cigarettes are shown, ashes and all. Godard himself believed in this as did most people in France then.
- Stealth Parody: Certain elements of the film noir genre, and by extension, classic Hollywood films (the effortlessly cool protagonist, long takes with minimal editing, suspenseful plotting, bleak and cynical tone) are oh-so-subtly skewered by Godard. Makes sense, given that he was a part of the French New Wave, a movement which openly rejected literary and cinematic conventions of the era.
- Suicide by Cop: Arguable case. Michel kills a policeman and resists arrest, so his death isn't unpredictable.
- Trolling Translator: Michel uses numerous slang expressions. Patricia knows only the regular French but not the informal lingo spoken in the streets. She always asks Michel for the meaning of those expressions and he often translates incorrectly to troll her.
- Trope Codifier: The greatest legacy of Breathless may very well be its idiosyncratic usage of jump cuts. While the editing technique was not unheard of at the time, they became much more popular upon release.
- Trope Maker: One of the earliest examples of French New Wave cinema, and one of the most acclaimed works to come out of the movement.
- Villain Protagonist: Michel.