Feb. 24, 2011

Breathless (1960)
Grade: 64/100

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Stars: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, Liliane David

What it's about. Chain-smoking car thief Jean-Paul Belmondo is a young hipster who comes to Paris for two reasons, both of which seem equally important. He is owed a lot of money by an elusive man named Antonio. And he is infatuated with 20ish American emigree Jean Seberg.

He is also on the run, having just shot a policeman about to arrest him. Belmondo can't find Antonio, and his hottie former girlfriend Liliane David won't give him enough money. He has better luck with the short-haired and sexually liberated Seberg, who clearly likes him. But she doesn't want to go to Italy with him, or break up with her more reliable boyfriend, a journalist.

Persistent flatfoot Daniel Boulanger tracks Belmondo to Seberg, who gives him up just as Belmondo finally gets the payoff from Antonio (Henri-Jacques Huet). Belmondo is shot dead, and deservedly so, but not before he does an increasingly slow and eccentric dance down the streets of Paris.

How others will see it. Those in eternal search of something new and different to praise found much to admire in Breathless, with its abrupt editing, curious dialogue, and odd mixture of casual romance and street crime. Its immediate impact is overstated; the best it mustered was a Best Foreign Actress nomination at BAFTA for Jean Seberg.

The film has remained influential, though, especially in its anti-hero portrayal of Belmondo. He seems to be two different people: a desperate, ruthless hood; and a Romeo obsessed with securing Seberg.

The imdb.com user ratings are very high, but do decline with increasing age. Females over 45 award it only 5.0 out 10, a thumbs down for bad boy Belmondo and his flirtatious yet indecisive young blonde thing.

How I felt about it. Seberg learns that her new boyfriend is a murderer and the subject of an all-out local police manhunt. Does she: 1) tell all to the police, 2) try to avoid both the police and Belmondo, or 3) help Belmondo evade the police and go into hiding with him. Naturally, she chooses #3, because it makes for a better film.

While waiting with Belmondo for Antonio to show up, does Seberg 1) agree to go to Italy with him, 2) try to escape this highly dangerous character, or 3) tell him she just reported his location to the police, the equivalent of dropping a lit match on a pool of gasoline that you are standing in.

Does Belmondo respond to this by 1) slapping Seberg angrily, 2) screaming at her, 3) strangling her, 4) fleeing before the cops arrive, 5) all of the above, or 6) continuing their conversation as if she had merely announced the room temperature. Would you believe #6?

Seberg is a cinematic character, just as Belmondo is. They exist solely for our pleasure, which is why they lack rational behavior. No policemen were actually harmed in the making of this film. But are we supposed to like, and even cheer for, Belmondo, even as he steals cars, shoots cops, and assaults men in bathrooms for date money.

Why? Because he admires Humphrey Bogart, has a flat stomach, makes funny faces, and/or has the hots for Seberg? Personally, I judge people by their actions, and not by their style. He's a monster, not a fashion statement.