Breathless (1960) – movie review


Breathless is one of the most significant and iconic films to be a part of the cinematic French New Wave (which is by the way, a film period that you can name-drop at any dinner party to sound sophisticated) as it is… uh…

Breathless follows a Frenchman lacking a single bone of respect or sympathy in his body called Michel. Michel impulsively kills a policeman on the road to Paris and attempts to hide from the authorities, who know that he’s in Paris, as well as attempt to woo a previous girlfriend.

By the way, the original French title of this film is À bout de souffle, which sounds a lot like “About the souffle…” as if a waiter is about to apologise for a bad dessert… no… just me? Okay.

I found some things to like about this film and some things to dislike about this film but for once, I feel that they are actually evenly spread.

I liked both of the main performances in this film but for different reasons. The female lead (Jean Seberg) is great in a professional way whereas the male lead (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is great in a Steve Martin’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid way.

Jean Seberg was giving a serious performance for a serious character that I felt was a very engaging and binding element of the story but I just kept finding reasons to laugh at Belmondo. Not for the way that his character is portrayed, but for how the screenwriter could honestly print that script and think “Yep, this is realistic”. I’m not saying this a very bad thing but I am saying that it made me lose a little bit of artistic respect for the film and made me find it more of a comedy.

I also really liked the design. I’ve never been to Paris but the way that it has been portrayed in media and through word-of-mouth, I have been presented a clear vision of relaxation and beauty within the city. And that presentation is here but more authentic because it was actually filmed on the streets of Paris in the middle of the bustling 1960s.

Breathless is often acclaimed for it’s innovative use of jump cuts. To me, that’s like saying that J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek is acclaimed for its innovative use of lens flares. When these critics use the word innovative, they are using it correctly, but at the same time they’re slightly sugar-coating what seemed quite funny to me. Some of the editing in Breathless is bad but that’s because there are so many of them that to a point, they become humourous (which I actually enjoyed).

There’s one scene at the end that was supposed to be a dramatic moment but because it dragged on for too long, it seemed like a Monty Python sketch. The reason I’m not describing the scene in detail is due to the fact that it would spoil the end of the movie. Yes. I laughed during the movie’s supposed “climax”.

I have been urged to watch Breathless for quite a while now and once I finally got around to putting it in the DVD player, I was expecting an artsy parade filled with endless meaning and not enough indulgence or entertainment. But what I got was a mildly entertaining “drama” with way too many jump cuts and so many satirist vibes (it felt like a parody of French New Wave films rather than a respectable leader of such).

There wasn’t a barrage of meaning and depth that was visible TO ME in Breathless however there probably was a lot of meaning and depth. I wouldn’t doubt for a second that there wasn’t but what I saw was an amusing black-and-white send-up of French New Wave films with a great performance and an equally great comedic deadpan one.

What did you think of Breathless? Leave your comment on the side and don’t forget to follow my Instagram page for movie posters.


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