by Jean-Luc Godard based on a treatment by Francois Truffault, with
Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, 87 minutes, 1960
Carter B. Horsley
is a sloppy, uneven masterpiece of murder and mayhem in Paris that
quickly made a major international star out of Jean Paul Belmondo and
set off terrorist rockets of irresponsible morality for youth if they
could jauntily wear a fedora hat and tweed sports coat.
is forgiven if one can create a querky personal signature such as James
Dean's hand motions, or Belmondo's incessant lip-rubbing.
of course, such affectations are the norm, but back in 1960 they were
extraordinary. They were attention-calling, braggadoccio.
show-off, derring-do, WTFs.
Belmondo is not particularly attractive and Jean
Seberg's French accent is not perfect when she blurts out "New York
Herald Tribune" as she attempts to hawk the newspaper on the streets.
Yet they are mesmerizing and their critics have
stood up at attention ever since.
being kissed by Seberg
In his 2011 book on Pauline Kael, A Life in the
Dark," Brian Kellow noted that she considered Breathless "to
be the best of the New Wave group" and was "fascinated
by the way Godard had managed to make two characters who cared for
nothing about anything, or anyone, both attractive and
They were so detached from the world that impulsiveness was a way of
life for them. She found Breathless
both funny and sexy and playful and consistently surprising.
worked on the surface in a way that was unusual for movies at the time;
those who saw the film found that it was almost impossible to regulate
their responses to what was unfolding on the screen. This
and technique resonated with Pauline - it was an another example of her
attraction to 'messiness' on screen...."
In her review
for KPFA-FM of Berkeley, the first listener-sponsored radio station in
the United States, Miss Kael provided the following commentary about
the film in her fine book "I Lost It At The Movies: Film Writings
1954-1965" before she became the film critic for The New Yorker Magazine:
codes of civilized living presupoose that people have an inner life and
outer aims, but this new face lives for the moment, because that is all
that they care about. And the standards of judgment we might
bring to bear on them don't touch them and don't interest them.
They have the narcissism of youth, and we are out of it, we
bores. They are the youthful representatives of mass
They seem giddy and gauche and amusingly individualistic,
you consider that this individualism is not only a reaction to mass
conformity, but, more terrifyingly, is the new form that mass society
takes: indifference to human values. Godard has used this,
were, documentary background for a gangster story....But Breathless
has removed the movie gangster from this melodramatic trappings of
gangs and power; this gangster is Bogart apotheosized and he is
romantic in a modern sense just because he doesn't care about anything
but the pleasures of love and fast cars."
"If you foolishly depend on the
local reviewers to guide you you may have been put
To begin with, where did they get the idea that the
refers to the film's fast editing: That's about like
that the title Two
Way Stretch refers to the wide screen. The
French title A bout de
means out of breath, and it refers to the hero, who keeps
until he's winded. Their confusion is , however, a tribute to
film's fast, improvisary to style, the go go go rhythm, The
score, the comic tehnique are prefectly expressive of the lives of the
characters; the jump-cuts convey the tempo and quality of the
activity of characters who don't work up to anything but hop from one
thing to next. And as the film seems to explain the people in their own terms,
the style has the freshness of 'objectivity.' It does seem
breathlessly young, newly created."