Saturday, August 28, 2010

Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)

When one has gone through pretty much their entire adult life (from about 20 to the current 43) completely in love with Jean-Luc Godard's revolutionary French New Wave film A Bout Souffle (aka, Breathless) it is completely appropriate (and not strange or ridiculous at all, mind you!) for one to jump up and down like a giddy schoolgirl once one finally sees the film (that shook the world!) in a theater, up on the big screen, in a glorious (and quite gorgeous) newly minted 35mm 50th anniversary restoration print. Not strange or ridiculous at all, right? C'mon people, help me out here. Not strange or ridiculous at all - and completely appropriate. Right? Right?

Now I do want to clarify by saying that all this hullabaloo (not strange or ridiculous at all, mind you!) took place at the cinema I run with my lovely wife Amy, hours before we opened for business for the day, and that I was alone in said theater, so my giddy schoolgirl antics did not disturb a single soul. There may have also been a point where I lightly caressed the screen as that pixie darling Jean Seberg was hawking her New York Herald Tribune up and down the Champs-Elysees, but we probably shouldn't go into that because even I am beginning to think this may be quite strange and equally quite as ridiculous (though still quite appropriate).

Giddy schoolgirl antics aside, Godard's film was truly revolutionary as far as world cinema goes. Changing the way cinema works - or breathes if you will - Godard, along with his Nouvelle Vague compatriots, Truffaut, Rohmer, Chabrol and Rivette, were upstart pioneers for at least three (so far!) generations of filmmakers to come. Without Godard and his Breathless (and for full disclosure - Truffaut and his 400 Blows) there would never have been a Scorsese, a Bogdanovich, a Coppola, a Cimino, a Hopper. There would never have been a De Palma, a Ferrara or an Oliver Stone. There would never have been a Christophe Honore or a Arnaud Desplechin. There would never have been a Linklater, a Todd Haynes or an Anderson (neither Paul Thomas nor Wes). There would never have been a Wong Kar-wai or an Abbas Kiarostami.  There would never have been a Tarantino.  Not even a Spielberg (whether that's a bad thing or not).

Okay, I may be treading pretty far into the old hyperbolic swamp, but in essence, all I stated in the above paragraph is quite true. These filmmakers would still exist without the new wave of course (though as deeply ensconced in post-new wave mentality as Christophe Honore is, there can be a good case made for his possible inexistence otherwise) but they would probably exist in a somewhat altered manner. Seemingly simplistic in its plot (a girl and a gun is what Godard said) and mostly accidental in its style (his jump cuts were just his idea of cutting the film without editing out any sub-plots) the film nonetheless helped create a new way of tackling cinema.  A way that was the polar opposite of what was considered great cinema prior to the new wave.  I way that only the fresh minds of a group of motley cinephiles (all working as that most dreaded of writer - the film critic!) would dare attempt.

Yet, even as revolutionary as this movement, this film, was to cinema and the generations of so-called movie brats that came after them, it was just as revelatory to a young buck cinephile who was just coming into his own as a lover of cinema.  Watching just the usual gang of typical hollywoodie stuff throughout my childhood (my misbegotten youth if you will) it was when I graduated that I first dove into cinephilia.  Seeing Ran and Brazil in back to back weeks at a local cinema in 1985, I began seeking out more arthouse fare.  This led to my early love of Kurosawa, Bergman and Fellini, which in turn led me into Truffaut and Godard.  My first viewing of Breathless (at around 20 or so) was a shock to the system so to speak.  Sure, I still to this day love many of the films that came before (my favourtite time in cinema is still the fifties!), but there is just something so urgent about the French New Wave that makes it seem more important in a way.  Of course I was reading a lot of the Beats at the time too.  All in all, it led into the deep seeded cinephilia that enraptures me to this very day (and beyond I am sure)

Now of course the reason I am even writing about this particular film at this particular moment in time is that the aforementioned 50th anniversary restoration print is out and (as I am sure you have gathered from my earlier giddy schoolgirl antics) is currently playing at Midtown Cinema - the (again) aforementioned arthouse that my lovely wife and I run together.  So far business hasn't exactly been brisk (my film buyer warned me that Harrisburg would not come out for classic films - even if they are on 35mm!) but I have faith it will pick up over the weekend (and vindicate me with my film buyer!!).  I mean c'mon, how can they not come out for such a revolutionary film as Breathless?  Really, tell me how.  I know I am still going to act like a giddy schoolgirl (who wouldn't with Jean Seberg up on the screen!?) - as ridiculous and strange as it may seem.


MP said...

I would love to see À Bout de souffle at the Midtown Cinema. But since I'm too far away I wil just envy you and watch it on my tv instead. I recently rewatched it, around the end of July and was shocked how great it is. Well, I even did something like a review of it but got excited like you I guess and praised it like a 10 year old in front of Justin Bieber... (poor metaphor, I know but I liked the image).
I am currently reading Jean-Luc Godard's bio by Antoine De Baeque, it's deeply interesting but I think it only came out in french though.
If you're interested this is the link to my review:

Kevyn Knox said...

I have always loved the film and now I have fallen in love all over again.

Chandan said...

You can fall really in love with Paris and Jean Seberg after seeing this movie.