Sight and Sound Top 250 – #013 Breathless (1960)

And here we are, back again with another look at one of the world’s best movies as designated by the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list. This time around, it’s #013 on the list, Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

Stark.

That’s the first word that comes to mind when viewing Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless.

In Breathless, Godard has pared down the nature of narrative film, making it, (as was his intent) almost documentary in nature.

Coming from a background in film criticism, a large part of Godard’s purpose was not just to make films, but use those films to comment on the nature of film and to transform it. In order to do this, he not only stepped outside of the studio, filming on the streets without permission and often surreptitiously, but also filming largely without a script, deciding on the day what scenes he wanted to film (largely filming in order) and giving the lines to the actors ust before shooting.

However, Godard’s innovative shooting style also extended to the editing room, where he decided to cut not only between scenes, but inside them, taking out anything he felt extraneous or boring. This led to what have been called “jump cuts”where the background may change dramatically while conversations may be taking place. These jump cuts also occur during action scenes, often with the camera only focusing on individual objects or quick actions, all of which serves to make the movie move much more quickly an adding an extra layer of intensity.

The film opens with a dedication to film noir house Monogram Pictures, an the reason for that seems to be two-fol. First, the movie is obviously Goard’s riff on the noir genre, including many direct references to classics of the style such as The Maltese Falcon, which is paraphrased in a statement by our protagonist Michel who states that he always falls in love with the wrong woman. For that matter Michel’s American girlfriend Patricia is, despite her outwardly light demeanor, an almost prototypical femme fatale, eventually holding all the cards and becoming the final arbiter of MIchel’s fate.

The dedication to Monogram carries a further significance also. Here’s an excerpt from a 1964 interview:

Godard, why did you really dedicate Breathless to “Monogram Pictures”?

I did it to prove that you can do pictures that are both interesting and cheap. In America a cheap picture is not considered interesting, and I said “Why not?” because actually there are many American directors who do B and C pictures who are very interesting. Vivre Sa Vie I dedicated to B pictures, because in my opinion it is a B picture.

You’re being dead serious now?

If it’s less than $100,000, it’s a B picture. The trouble is that in Hollywood the B budget is all they consider; it can be a B or Z budget, but even with a Z budget you can attempt to make an A quality picture. If you talk to a Hollywood producer-if you make a B picture then you are a B director. You are only an A director if you make films with A budgets. … I think this idea is wrong. But if you go to see bankers or producers in America they still think in Hollywood’s way.

So both in setting up the movie the way he did and carrying his thoughts on the nature of film all the way through the editing, Godard attempted to change the very nature of film, and with Breathless he succeeded

Here’s your trailer:

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