Breathless (Rialto Pictures, NR)

The real, big-picture legacy that Breathless left was in pioneering a new way to make films fun, and you’d be hard pressed to find another film that has achieved such a feat since. 

 

Though I have not been impressed with the new releases of 2010 thus far, it has been a fantastic year for classic films getting theatrical re-releases. We’ve had the Kurosawa centennial, the complete Metropolis and House. Now, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, we have a new 35mm print of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. I’ve said it before; you can’t underestimate the value of seeing canonical films, such as these, the way they were intended to be seen—from a film print, in a movie theater, with an audience. The opportunity to watch them in such ideal circumstances should not be missed.

Most film critics, historians and theorists would call the French New Wave the single most important and influential movement in cinema history. Breathless, a rough, quick, cheap tale of a petty criminal and his American girlfriend, is generally accepted as the most important film of the movement. While that’s all true and shouldn’t be ignored, to focus solely on the artistic importance of Breathless is to overlook the movie’s most obvious charm: it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch, even fifty years later.
Take, for example, one of the most groundbreaking scenes in the movie, the scene with Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and Patricia (Jean Seberg) in the car. Here, Godard introduces the world to the jump cut. Once you get over how much fun the jump cuts are on their own (and they are fun—just ask any music video director), listen to Michel’s lament as he observes the back of Patricia’s head: “Woe is me, I’m in love with a girl with a pretty neck, pretty breasts, a pretty voice, pretty wrists, a pretty forehead, pretty knees…but who is a coward.” I defy you not to look for excuses to work those lines into casual conversation in the days after you see the movie.
And really, that’s exactly what Breathless added to the culture of film. Sure, the jump cuts, funky structure and the rule-breaking attitude are still being mimicked to this day, but those are just details. The real, big-picture legacy that Breathless left was in pioneering a new way to make films fun, and you’d be hard pressed to find another film that has achieved such a feat since. If you can find one, here’s betting that Breathless was among its major influences. | Pete Timmermann
 

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