“See? You said last night you couldn’t live without me, but you can. Romeo couldn’t live without Juliet, but you can.”
‘Breathess’, directed by Jean-Luc Godard in 1960, is a French crime thriller and one of the founding movies of the French New Wave. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays Michel Poiccard, a criminal in Marseille, obsessed with American popular culture. He spends his days stealing cars and sleeping around. One day, having driven a stolen car out of the city, he shoots a policeman dead. He escapes to Paris and hooks up with an American student called Patricia, played by Jean Seberg. He hides out in her flat, abuses her hospitality, seduces her and gets her pregnant, but when she discovers the truth of his criminality, she betrays him by shopping him to the police. The innovation in this film doesn’t come from the story or the script, although the dialogue is peppered with witty barbs and allusions to popular culture whilst the plot is elliptical and wilfully obscure. What makes this film distinctive is the way Godard shoots and edits the film to both reflect the haphazard life of Poiccard and the chaos of his time in Paris. Scenes are made up of roughly chopped together jump cuts, most notably a car journey with the lovers in which the whole exchange between them seems fractured. For all these innovative cinematic techniques, the film is grounded in reality. There is a feeling of grounding in this film, a feeling of the director getting beyond the romance of the characters. In the same way Truffaut gets to the heart of growing up in the city without money in ‘The 400 Blows’, Godard taps into the seediness of the life of his criminal.
Would I recommend it? It’s a famous movie and an important on in the canon of French New Wave movies. I preferred both ‘Pierrot le Fou’ or even the more conventional ‘Vivre sa vie’, so I’d suggest either of these as a double bill.