I decided to review Breathless today, after noticing that most people who found my site on a search engine, found it through my review of Contempt. While Contempt comes across as being the far more interesting movie on first glance, I could talk for hours about Breathless.... but I'll try and make it shorter than that.

Breathless is Godard's first major film, and set off something of an earthquake in the world of cinema. Both technically and in its attitude the film is unprecedented, to the extent that we can say the title of the film refers to both the style it was shot in, and the actions of the character.

Technically, it does not seem as groundbreaking at first glance as it really is, but I think it is clear on close glance that few movies can really duplicate what Godard is doing in this film (and most of those movies are also made by Godard). He said that a goal of his while making this film was to give the impression that editing had just been invented. The editing, while looking 'wrong' to anyone who is used to standard classical editing styles, is strangely compelling. Time speeds up or slows down depending on the attitudes of the characters, you are given the impression of an event instead of the reconstruction of an event (by which I mean, there is a lot of jump cutting).

Besides giving the overall impression that the characters really are breathless, this plays into the real purpose of the film, it's kind of explosion into the real world (a more "academicy" term would be the destruction of textuality). The film is famous for being the first film that was intensely self referential (I'm sure some of you dorks out there are thinking about Melies and the cinema of attractions, but we both know that's something different), the main character regularly talks to the camera when he is alone, and he is also obsessed with cinema (primarily Humphrey Bogart). Meaning that the audience is in the film (the main character talks to us), and the main character is outside of the film (he is a film spectator). The barrier between the artistic creation and real life is effectively broken.

Of course, this is taking the standard reading of the film a bit farther than most people would care to take it (the standard reading is that reflexivity is used to comment on the impact of film/ideology on the characters life, which I would argue is true of Terrance Malick's Badlands, but not true here). The reason why I would argue that this is a merging of fact and fiction, and not just a formalist/Brechtian technique used to move from entertainment into "issues," is because it is clear from later films of Godard's (particularly Bande a Part, and Pierrot Le Fou), that 'the world of cinema' was a positive thing for Godard at this time (though he would change his mind in the 70s, I've heard a number of arguments that he changed his mind back in the 80s). The world of film is, in Breathless, a world of possibility, where running from the police, pregnancy, and even death, are not big enough threats to keep two lovers from going on an adventure together, one where they are always a step ahead of the cops, until they betray each other.

I regularly argue that all film is about love, and it is films like Breathless that make me argue this. Brecht said, quite famously, that "food is the first thing, morals follow after." In cinema love is the first thing. Love simply defined as an irrational sense of wonder when faced with another human being, that arouses the desire within oneself to perform feats of magic. That I think is the simplest definition of love, and explains the whole experience of cinema, from concept to spectatorship better than any other explanation. Under this definition Godard has always been the best filmmaker in dealing with issues of love, and this is where he got his start.

Buy Breathless here

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