Sunday, May 22, 2011

Capsule Review: À bout de souffle (aka Breathless) (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock once described drama as being life with the dull bits cut out, and this idea is taken to its logical extreme in Jean-Luc Godard’s legendary À bout de souffle where conversations and movement are interrupted to push the action forward. These jump cuts were an afterthought, a way to shorten a film that was running too long in Godard's eye, but represents a freshness and improvisational spirit that permeates everything in the film. The central relationship between Jean-Paul Belmondo's small time crook Michel and the pixie-ish Jean Seberg as Patricia is revolutionary, informing the films that followed so completely that it's nearly impossible to picture the independent revolution of American films in the later 60s and 70s without this as a starting point. This influence is perhaps a trade, considering how much the American gangster films of the 30s and 40s influenced Godard and his fellow French New Wave directors - displayed by Michel's non-stop smoking and cinematic affectations. It all still feels startlingly fresh - and when viewed in the context of the films immediately before it seems like something beamed back from the future - and even the post-dubbed dialogue seems to be used to maximum artistic effect. Of course, the characters are self-absorbed and often eye-rollingly obtuse, and the jazzy score sometimes threatens to overwhelm the action, but these are all minor complaints when viewed in the context of what this began. Followed by flawed but fascinating remake starring Richard Gere in 1983.

No comments: