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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


Irene Signorelli on Sous Les Toits de Paris (1930) – Between theatre and cinema

This passionate and troubled love story between a poor street singer and a naïve Romanian girl take place on the streets of Paris and inside its numerous caffées where young couples used to go for dancing and drinking. “Sous le toits de Paris” by René Clair, is an accurate depiction of the vibrant and melancholic atmosphere permeating Paris during the30’s.

Even if the movie is one of the first to use the new technology of the synchronized sound, the style and the plot can be inscribed into the way more ancient theatrical tradition of comedy.

The revival of the stage tradition inside the cinema had been adopted by French filmmaker for addressing the American cinema monopoly, that was aggressively eroding the share of French movies screened and produced.

One of the main strategies to set back American film industry monopoly that led French cinema to develop a very specific style, was the deployment of national and regional theatre traditions inside the cinema, translating and transposing folkloristic tales, stereotypes and regional cultural peculiarities inside their works (Andrew

The poplar stage tradition is a remarkable component of “Sous le toits de Paris”.

The film is embodied of popular theatrical features that are fully deployed with the precise intent of amuse the audience, arouse laughs and fun among the public.

We can sum up these features in three main ways meant to entertain the public and give to the movie the clear cut of the comedy.

Here are proposed frames of the movie meant to visually explain the deployment of these stage features:


Construction of stereotyped characters, which actions corresponds faithfully to the common and popular representation of its figure.

Pic 1

Pic 2

For example, Pola is depicted as the naïve girl, always in the arms of a different man (pic. 1-2).

Pic 3

Her naivety became a source of drollery inside the movie, like after her scandalized reaction to Albert attempt to kiss her while she is his bed (pic. 3)


Creation of absurd situations, where the characters are pushed to clash against each other without following common reasoning or logic, for the mere purpose of intentionally entertain the public.

Here the sense of the lost – stolen money were both pretenders where claiming to have found Pola’s money.



Manipulation of the different sound tracks that follow the development of the story in order to stress particular comic scenes or sequences, conveying the idea of musical comedy.

Here a frame of the final sequence when Albert and his friend suddenly start to fight for Pola with the gramophone playing a cavalry melody as soundtrack. For stressing even more stressing the hilarity of the scene an unware spectator looks to his glass of wine as he can’t believe to his own eyes.



Irene Signorelli on Cabiria (1915)

Giovanni Pastrone’s “Cabiria”, produced in 1914, was set to become a colossal from the beginning.

The profusion of money invested, the collaboration with Giovanni D’Annunzio, the use of innovative filming techniques and machines, the attention to every detail, destined the movie to reach a wider appreciation of the public.

However, a great part of its success, at least inside national borders, can be traced to the movie’s nationalistic message laying underneath it, that represented a unifying element crossing all Italian public, both from the north and the south, wealthy and bread-winners.

The movie is set during the Second Punic War, when the glory of the Roman Empire touched its peak by defeating the rival Carthage. The ultimate victory of Rome over the Punic city, that has historically led to the definitive Latin conquest of the region in the 3rdcentury, is metaphorically linked to the Italian acquisition of Libya in 1912. This connection between present Italians and their ancestors inflamed the public’s hearts with proudness of both their past and present.

As reported by a critic after having attended to the movie’s screening:

The commotion won over me over when I saw, shining on spectator’s faces and trough their eyes, Italian’s passionate love for how our marvellous past inspire lesson and new conquests.” (Reich; 2013, p.39)


However, if in Pastrone mind the reference was probably a mere tool for assuring a wide resonance to the movie through the audience, it is impossible to pass by the colonial logic embedded inside Cabiria.

Firstly, Rome’s glory and power seems to provide to the new-born Italian nation an ancestral right of conquest over the Mediterranean area. And second, in the movie is highly visible a clear distinction between Carthaginians and Romans, the first depicted as primitives, dedicated to human sacrifices, while Rome on the other side is represented as noble, civilized and magnanimous. (Aletto 2016). Let’s analyse the scene of the “human sacrifices”, when the High Priest of Carthage try to sacrifice the little Cabiria to the god Moloch.

The scene is introduced by a moment of high suspense where the hand of the God Moloch slowly open, highlighted by the skilful game of shadows.



The sapient use of lightening transpose the sense of perils and mystic fear, immediately followed by a long shot depicting the frenetic dances of the disciples caught by diabolic delirium (Reich,2013).    

D’Annunzio captions of the High Priest words invoking Moloch, underline the bloodthirsty and brutality of the

religion by using words like “voracious and “insatiable”, while the flames coming out by its gigantic statue convey the idea of pure evil.



This combination aims to create a feeling of disconcert and dismay inside the public, overwhelmed by the painful sight of innocent child eaten by the flames of the God statues. Probably, on Pastrone ‘s mind this sequence aimed to attract the public, to win their stupor or/and to underline by contrast the braveness of the two heroes who rescued Cabiria. However, this peculiar depiction of the characters, Carthaginians and Romans, reveal a clear colonial logic.


he barbarous ritual, indeed, came as an obvious justification for the conquest of Rome of such tedious population. The glory of Rome is linked to its civilization, while Cartage deserve to be defeated and conquered once seen its barbaric religion and society. As during the Third century the innately superiority of Rome made it conquer the known world, in the XX century Italians, direct descendants of Romans, have the duty to reconquer their ancestors land and to bring civilization where is needed.


As we can see, Cabiria underlines and supports two main strands on which Italian colonialism was based on: the direct link to Rome’s power and the duty to civilize African barbaric people, making of the film a not so little propagandistic tool.



Aletto G., Cabiria: Gabriele D’Annunzio e il kolossal all’italiana, 2016, retrived from:

Reich J., The Metamorphosis of Maciste in Italian Silent Cinema, 2013, Indiana University Press