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Film / Breathless

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Breathlessnote  is a 1960 French crime drama film written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, in his feature filmmaking debut. Along with Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour and François Truffaut's The 400 Blows, it gained much attention as one of the seminal films of the French New Wave. It can also be seen as one of the earliest examples of Neo-Noir, as it openly acknowledges and plays with a number of common Film Noir tropes.

The basic plot is fairly simple, seasoned by Godard with pop-cultural meta-commentary and Paris travelogue. Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a petty criminal who models himself on the film persona of Humphrey Bogart, steals a car and – seeing that a policeman is following him on a motorcycle – shoots the cop. He then flees to Paris, where he hides out with his American girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg).

Breathless made an international star of Belmondo and raised the profile of Seberg, whose Hollywood career had stalled when she starred in the big-budget flop Saint Joan.

An American remake, starring Richard Gere and Valérie Kaprisky in the lead roles, was released in 1983.

Don't confuse this with the crappy 1990s Doom-clone.

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.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Patricia. Michel mentions it gives her an appeal that is more charming than gorgeous. He still finds her attractive though.
  • 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 inspired 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.
    • Lampshaded at one point when he sees a poster of Bogart, studies it reverently, and proceeds to emulate the aforementioned gesture.
      Michel: (reverently) Bogie...
    • Played for Drama in the end when he is shot and Patricia does the exact same action, moving her thumb across her lips.
  • 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.
  • Downer Ending: Patricia betrays Michel by contacting the police, before proceeding to break up with him. Michel is fatally shot while fleeing, and dies on the streets cursing either Patricia or the world.
  • Foreign Remake: Was remade in 1983 into an American film starring Richard Gere. Not well known and its critical reputation is dismal.
  • Girly Run: Patricia runs like this when she approaches a dying Michel towards the end of the movie.
  • 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 Godard needed to shorten the picture, so he got rid of frames randomly. Or so he claimed.
  • Le Film Artistique: The summary at the top? Only really affects about 15 minutes of the movie. The majority of it is mainly long, heavily adlibbed discussions between Michel, Patricia and occasionally other characters which add relatively little to the story. Still entertaining, though.
  • Lost in Translation: The closing lines of the film are notoriously difficult to properly translate. Depending on how it's rendered, the entire conclusion of the two main characters changes drastically. In the original French, Michel's dying words are "C'est vraiment dégueulasse," which could mean either "It's really disgusting" (cursing the world) or "She's a real scumbag" (cursing Patricia for turning him in). However, there's no easy way to translate this into English without losing one of those meanings.note 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.