Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Breathless / À Bout de souffle (Jean Luc Godard, 1960)

Jean-Paul Belmondo as an attractive criminal, Michel, with a fondness for Bogart. He drifts into crime rather casually, as when he casually shoots a policeman pursuing the car Michel has stolen—Michel just happens to find a gun in the glove compartment. He has a vague romantic attachment to the American girl Patricia (Jean Seberg), who is even vaguer still. She’s brisk and pretty in her close-cropped fair hair and sailor-striped shirt and her American-accented French. The famous “honesty” of this film must stem from the fact that both lovers speak a good deal about how uncertain they are about whether they love each other, though they do.

This is not at all a conventional crime drama, because there’s very little dash and bravado–just free-floating charm. And this charm is peculiar because it’s so ambivalent. In the end, Patricia turns Michel in to the police. Why? Apparently it is supposed a means of discovering if she really loves him. It’s complicated, but it works something like this: how can she know whether she really does love Michel? If she betrays him, the act of betrayal would be especially méchant, and if she feels sufficiently terrible she will know she loves him, and if not, well then. This means of testing love is complicated and sophisticated and poetic and more than any of these qualities, stupid. Michel disdains escape. He’s tired, he says, and wants to sleep, though perhaps not to die, and yet he does die. The police on the scene misrepresent his last words to Patricia, who looks frozen at the camera and turns away.

The movie is deceptively good to look at, which conceals the waywardness of its concept. And more puzzling still, I wish I knew what some critics (and the blurb on the dvd-box blurb) mean when they use the word “existentialist” about this film.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have no idea in Hell why blogger deems your content only suitable for adults.

I saw no comments on your blog. And so I thought Id say Hi!

Im glad you saw Breathless. I think the internet has very few people talking about Godard and his work.

Keep posting. You write well.