Monday, July 21, 2014

The French New Wave pt.1 "Breathless"

In the 1960's film goers who wanted something different to talk about over drinks and dinner flocked in droves to see films like Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard, and Jules and Jim by Francois Truffaut.  These films were hip and groundbreaking, thought provoking, and fun. They showed cool people doing and saying cool things. It's hard to believe it now, but Breathless was the Pulp Fiction of the 60's.  Breathless ushered in a new kind of film making. Jean-Luc Godard was a rock star and his films played like a punk concert.  The characters in the films displayed morals as loose as the roaming camera work. Scenes were shot on location (busy city streets, cafes, record stores, cheap hotels). No extras were employed and no sets were built. The style of film making was branded The French New Wave (or simply New Wave).

The Plot of Breathless is a spin on the American crime drama. A French Hood , Michel (Jean-Paul Bemando), shoots a police man in Marseilles while trying to steal a car. While on the run he turns to his American girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg), who lives in France. Patricia is an aspiring journalist who sells newspapers on the street corner. She spends much of the film contemplating whether or not she is really in love with Michel. She reluctantly hides him out in her apartment as they ponder their relationship and the relationship between men and women in general.  Michel aspires to be like the screen hero Humphrey Bogart, aloof and unaffected. Able to remain detached when it comes to women and life. He constantly makes comments about his disregard for love and people. Patricia listens mostly and shrugs him off, then shoots back with her own witty retorts. She is truly the one who is detached. She says it all with her seductive, capricious eyes and coy smile. She toys with the idea of being in love with Michel, as if it were something she could take or toss away.  Even when telling him she is pregnant with their child. Patricia doesn't seem particularly loyal or committed to him.

( Writer,Director Jean-Luc Godard)

This aloof and ambivalent attitude toward life, love, and society was groundbreaking at the time. People went to see movies where the hero was tough and cool but had a moral compass, and the women were sexy and stunning but always stood by their man while taming the bad boy in him. Breathless has none of that. Michel is not as tough as he believes, although his contempt for anything in society plays as cool and smooth. We laugh as he insults everything life has to offer (including one scene where he is in his car and looks directly into the camera to rant about bad drivers and how much he hates the countryside). Patricia is sophisticated and modern, even by today's standards. She doesn't let her affection for Michel affect her decisions about life and what is best for her and her baby (though it is his.) They are both a couple of smart ass cool kids but appear leaps and bounds above the intelligence factor you see in today's films. As I watched this film again recently I was amazed at how relevant the dialogue was between them. These are conversations intelligent people have today! Not stylized versions of conversations, but true back and forth talking, For something new and different check out this not so "old" classic!