Andrea Mariani | Breathless
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Irene Signorelli on Breathless (1960)


“A bout de souffle” – “Breathless” – fulfils the promise contained inside its title.

The whole movie is meant for leaving the spectator astonished by the magnetic relationship between the two main protagonists, as well their immorality. The “dégueulasse” (i.e. awfulness) of the characters, living such romantic and deplorable love story, leave the spectator confused and uncomfortable at the sight. The main achievement of the movie indeed, is to attract us inside the story, building a special bound with the viewer, but at the same time it directly clashes against any social convention and values we grew up with, leading us inside a trap were we cannot exit.



The movie, screened for the first time in 1959, comes from a blurred and not- sentiment of rebellion and disrespect of what was the French cinema of the time.

Indeed, the whole system in which French movies were produced was completely hostile to innovation and creative freedom, as they would represent a risk for the commercial value of the product.

Jean Luc Godard, the director, through his masterpiece aimed to rewrite the rules of the cinema as well its values.




Michel, the male protagonist of the movie, occupies the very first sequences of the movie.

He is immediately presented as a gangster, always with a cigarette on the brink of his lips ready to fall down at any moment but still kept glued to Michelle’s lips by an unknown force. As his cigarettes, Michel is pushed by the flow of the events toward more and more faltering position, managing somehow to elude the peril until the very end of the movie. he only thing he seems to care about is Patricia, a twenty years old American girl, libertine and naïve at the same time.

Throughout the movie he is constantly living of violent and criminal expedients, lying even to Patricia for covering his real economic means.

However, this figure of dangerous and muscled gangster, that pay a tribute to the Hollywood tradition, is not without paradoxical connotations. Michel’s profound love for Patricia adds a sweet-biter shades to the overall psychology of the character.

Patricia, at the same time, embraces the main vogue of the time who were redefining the space and the role of women inside a clear misogynist society: she wears the typical hair-cut “a la garçonne” for modern girls, she doesn’t wear bra and moreover she is determined to “resolve” the little issue growing in her venter. Her naivety mixed with pure selfishness encroaches toward a ruthless cynicism, creating a character that we both admire and hate at the same time.

But if the rebel and anti-social psychological attitude of the protagonist are meant to shock and scandalize the audience, the magnetic relationship they share divert our moral judgement from their misbehaviour.

Even if expressed in totally different and, at the very end, conflicting way, the love they prove for each other demands our admiration.



Looking at the larger contest of dissociation of the movie to any previous cinematic norm we can draw an important parallelism.

As the anti-conformism and immorality of the main characters is overshadowed by the incredible strength of their love, at the same time, the apology of the rebellion against French cinematic tradition expressed by Godard inside this movie, even if disrespectful and hasty, will lead by default to a humble and pure act of love for the artistic purpose of cinema


Nemanja Milosevic on Breathless (1960)

The fast paced, 90 minutes long, black and white movie Breathless (À bout de souffle), features the escapades of its protagonist Michel, but most of all is a quintessential representation of the New Wave, the French movement in cinema. Besides Michel, we are introduced to Patricia, a young American journalist, trying to succeed in Paris.

This fast paced crime drama is based on the two components of the plot, first the criminal activities of Michel, that consist of stealing cars and murdering one policeman, and the other being his obsession with Patricia. The majority of film we witness just that, him stealing cars and his interaction with Patricia, who is not so sure about her own feelings toward her French lover. Patricia is confronted by the detective who is working on the case of the murdered policeman and blackmails Patricia with her alien status in France that would be in danger should she not reveal whereabouts of her lover.

Patricia is confronted morally, but decides to betray Michel and calls the police giving them information about him. The movie ends with Michel trying to escape, running down the street and being shot from the back. The very last shot we see is Patricia’s face while she is looking at him, sliding her nail across her lips.



As mentioned before, Breathless is the emblem of the French cinematic movement called New Wave. The movement was considered by its members not as something organized and institutionalized, but just a large group of directors creating quality films. The decline of mainstream French cinema after the World War 2, mostly caused by administrative and regulatory reasons, provoked several members of Cinemathequeto foster the future growth of the new direction, represented by movies made by Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Jacques Doniol Valcroze and Claude Chabrol.

One of the main points of the movement was the reconstruction of the film language, previously misused and proved to be a dangerous tool (especially during the World War 2). Cinema developed, in the course of previous decades, a set of conventions and grammar that aimed at making the spectator unaware of the mere experience of watching the moving images. That means that the main goal was to make a spectator feel like the movie is part of the reality, that the chain of events happening on screen is not part of the medium they are watching, something prerecorded, but reality taking place right there, in front of our eyes. This led to strong emotions from people who were not able to process the movie properly as fiction.  This type of moviemaking resulted in a certain amount of power that directors and producers have to use the medium in manipulative ways, in order to achieve certain ideological or political goal.



Like in the time that led to Breathlessand New Wave, today we face a very big divide between commercial and more independent cinema. In the city where I live this divide is most visible in the way movie theaters work. There are shopping mall based high-end cinemas that are usually more expensive and have a whole industry of on-the-side entertainment to it, like 3D, food court, collection of points, etc. On the other hand, small cinema and cultural centers downtown Belgrade offer a variety of European and less known movies that are not meant to be seen in 3D and do not include any of side entertainment. These independent cinemas do not show trailers before movies or try to lure audience with commercials, and projections start right on time.

The divide is therefore greater, since the identity of the place that shows movies corresponds with the offer, so you will not be able to go to high-end commercial cinema for a movie that’s not from a major production company from the USA.

Another very important aspect of it is the loss in creativity that this causes. The innovation is lacking from contemporary commercial cinema, in a way in which most movies can be seen as having some kind of a mutual formula. This kind of a universal formula that fits many different movies can be, in a way, applied on many contemporary films as well.

The current trend of movies based on the conflict between good and evil (like superhero movies), that again follows the same structure or formula, goes even further, as it uses the visual effects to compensate for the lack of boldness and originality. Also, the infamous superhero genre may use identity politics to acquire certain kind of prestige that may not be usually attributed to this genre, like “Wonder Woman” or “Black Panther”, that were almost universally critically acclaimed, with the score of more than 90% on Rotten Tomatoes (a website that measures the amount of favorable critiques from professional movie critics), but still, does not go far away from the limitations of the superhero genre.

This kind of a trend I see as a result of a highly capitalistic way of producing movies. The big production companies have stablished a certain market with their target group that is pretty loyal (loyalty is built by having a brand, like Marvel) and there is a certain set of elements of the plot that usually bring profit, so introducing new elements, changing the existing ones and going “off script” would be a big risk for a profit that is already guaranteed. That is how a big capital is held within a certain niche, without overcoming its limits in the highly competitive market.



Why did I talk about it this while discussing the movie Breathless? Because the movie aimed at provoking the established power structure within cinema, dealt with the history of a medium in a way where self-reflection and meta reference was a crucial element to deconstruct the “seductiveness” of the film, show and educate the audience on how the medium works and what techniques does it use to seduce. We now, in the contemporary world, have a situation where conformity plays a very important role, and everything that is not part of it is being marginalized. We almost have one powerful center with a lot of resources, that is doing everything it can to preserve the position of power, and the periphery with less resources that caters to the niche audience, usually in small downtown cinemas. The way New Wave dealt with movie conventions that were meant to mask the fact that we are watching a movie and tried to expose it in a original way is what I appreciate about it, as someone who watches movies in 2018 and sees a lot of similarities to the crisis. Breathlessis a non-commercial movie that left a really big mark in the history of the movie by being bold and rebellious towards itself, it is an example of anti-capital oriented, non-crowd-pleasing piece that ended being a widely recognizable title even half a century later. 



Auliannisa Hermawan on Breathless (1960)

It is not material or plot that makes the film special but how the material is treated or in other words it is not the content that is the most important but emphasizes on how to package its contents. In Breathless, Godard uses a simple criminal theme by shooting on streets, cafes and apartments in Paris. Godard only uses whatever lighting found on the set. He also sometimes allows his players to improvise with his dialogue. Every day, Godard would go to the streets, then write a brief summary of the scene he wanted. Godard gave the script to the actors and asked them to improvise as they pleased. Godard just had to record it and arrange it into a long film.


This kind of production style made Godard’s films very cheap, with such cheap production costs, Godard can submit a proposal to a producer to finance his film. Finally, Godard used his distinctive editing style, jump cut to make Breathless a very unique film and became a material for discussion of cinema observers everywhere. Breathless is actually Godard’s development of Francois Truffaut’s story ideas. Unexpectedly, Godard’s improvisation actually produced a two-hour film. At that time in France, to be considered as a commercial product, films could not be longer than 90 minutes. Instead of cutting one scene or sequence in full, Godard chose to streamline the film’s scenes.


Parts that are considered boring or not important are immediately cut. The scenes that are considered important are compressed to the point where the scene of people crossing the road will only show people on one side of the road then suddenly appear on the other side of the road. As a consequence, Breathless looks very tight and dense, there is no pause for the audience to ‘breathe’.


Minimal budget that makes Breathless special. Godard really must be creative in his film production so as not to exceed the funds set. The camera used is a handheld camera with black and white celluloid. Technical limitations such as the absence of dolly which is rails to move the camera, are tricked by placing the camera in the trolleys to create the same effect. Filming was done outdoors to, again, reduce costs. He used long shot, group shot, high angle, eye level angle, and low angle.



Michel’s character is described as being reckless and careless without being able to overcome the problems posed by his actions. Michel did everything he did other than because he was poor, he also did what he did because he was inspired by a film player who played in gangster films. Michael’s costume which consist of a suit, shirt, tie, glasses and hat shows that he is an obsessed criminal because his glasses and hat help him to disguise himself. It also showed that he is from the middle class. He was also seen as a criminal, seen from him stealing, and killing police.