Breathless Revisited

By Moira Sullivan

It does take your breath away to see such a pristine clear copy of Jean Luc Godard’s classic 50 years later with a new and improved translation of the French dialogue by François Truffaut, including the mysterious closing line of the film. The film that encouraged the Swiss filmmaker to later brag, "all you need is a girl and a gun". The story of small time crook Michel Poiccard, played by Jean Paul Belmondo who falls in love with Patricia Franchini, the late Jean Seberg, has gone down in film history as one of the tragic comic love tales of our time. Michel who tries to imitate Humphrey Bogart is not very good at it at all, but you have to admire his comical efforts in trying to look tough with a cigarette hanging out of his thick lips, which he often strokes with his thumb, and his lack of success as a gangster, which includes having to steal money from his girlfriend’s purse. Godard’s film is so simple that it works again and again. You never tire of hearing Patricia speaking French with an American accent, interviewing the famous film director Parvulesco, played in real life by Jean-Pierre Melville, stringing Michel along, and inevitably having to come to some tough decisions. You have to admire her question about the emancipation of women that she puts to Pavulesco, as she tries to break free from her role as just a pretty girl. She gets him to admit his ambition is to become immortal and die, probably one of the obsessions of youth and certainly one of the themes of Breathless. You never tire of the time Michel and Patricia spend in her little apartment, sparring with each other in the pursuit of what seems to be uncomplicated  and innocent love. The playfulness of the scene invokes the magic of youth. The film is also  a travelogue of Paris with shots of the Notre Dame, the Champs Elysées,Montmartre, outdoor cafes and many quaint little streets. Even a motorcade with presumably President Eisenhower proceeds down the grand boulevard as Michael and Patricia duck into a movie theater to escape the police.
What really makes her do it? - this has been the time honored question for half a century; why turn in this good-looking wayward young man who is in love with her? His goal to get her to go to Italy and hide out with him ends in disaster, and perhaps part of the beauty of the film is that he suffers such a tragic comic end. Jean Seberg stars in the definitive role of her career, her own life snuffed out at 40 presumably a suicide in the backseat of a car in Paris, an incident that was indeed far more treacherous than the foul play taken up in this film.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan

© 2010 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 07/21/10
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