Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Jean-Luc Godard - Breathless

Many moons ago I used to write movie reviews and go to press conferences and all those exciting things. I was in the room with 95% of the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the cast of Antman, and more. When doing those movie reviews, I was given the opportunity to review a new BluRay set of Jean-Luc Godard movies that came out in 2016, and I leapt at the chance.

I have fond memories of my A-level Film Studies class, being told how Godard filmed almost ad-lib and composed the story in edits. How the iconic jump-cuts worked, and the super-hip style of the movies. I was mesmerised. It was like a whole new door of movies was opened to me, and I eagerly watched as many movies of his as I could. 

With his passing this week, I thought I'd republish the reviews of that boxed set as the site they were written for has long since gone, starting with the first Godard movie I saw - Breathless.

(Review from 2016)

On the 1st February 2016, STUDIOCANAL is releasing a new boxed set of films of the legendary director Jean-Luc Godard on blu-ray. When the lovely people at STUDIOCANAL offered to send an advanced review copy of the set, my thoughts flew back to my dim and distant youth - sat in my film studies class and being shown Breathless (À Bout De Souffle) for the first time, mesmerised by the freedom, the cool and the style.

The chance to see it again and review it? I couldn’t pass it up.

Breathless is simple, underground, and the very height of cool. Made in 1959, using new lightweight cameras, Godard went out into the streets of Paris to film without the baggage of a huge film crew, or even permission to film. Writing the script usually on the morning of each day’s filming, the movie is a true guerrilla film-maker’s dream. 

The story follows relative newcomer Jean Paul Belmondo as Michel Poiccard, a gangster and criminal who returns to Paris after shooting a cop. There he reunites with a beautiful young American, Patricia Franchini (played by the wonderful Jean Seberg), and he tries to convince her to run away with him to Italy. He just needs to get the money owed to him before the police track him down.

A simple plot that frames a love story that is so beautifully played with such natural ease, you cannot help but be mesmerised by the performances. 

Breathless is often heralded as the birth of the French New Wave, the “Nouvelle Vague” movement of the 60’s. Movies were created with little or no script, sometimes completely redubbed with new dialogue to make a plot in editing. The jump-cuts quickly feel natural and while an audience brought up with purely Hollywood movies will be shocked at the sudden cuts and odd continuity, the freedom this style brings infused cinema with a fresh breath of creativity and cool that remains just as smooth today.

The blu-ray has been lovingly restored, overseen by the film’s cinematographer, Raoul Coutard, and given a gorgeous enhancement that retains the grain of the original film. While it may not be the super-crisp picture you’re used to with modern movies, this looks just like the film was intended and how it would have looked when first shown. (Though there are some missing frames that could not be restored).

The disc also includes a host of extras, including an introduction to the film, a 50min documentary about Godard’s influence on American directors, an 80min documentary (Room 12: Hotel de suede) looking at the making of the film, as well as a feature on Godard and one on Jean Seberg. 

All I can say is it’s incredibly cool, and I’ve still got four discs to review! It may not be your average geekdom for this site, but it’s well worth checking out if you’re interested in film.

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