Journal Topics for Breathless
Breathless (À Bout de Souffle) (1960) was produced by independent producer Georges de Beauregard, and directed by Jean Luc Godard. The English translation of the film title is more accurately called, “Out of Breath.”
The cinematographer was Raoul Coutard.
As we have already discussed in class, Godard was part of the group of French New Wave filmmakers who started out as film critics and then embraced new careers as film directors. It would not be an overstatement to say that Godard was the most influential of all of these young directors given his impact on World Cinema.
As much as he loved classical Hollywood and European cinema, Godard felt that the classic period was over forever. Filmmakers should explore new styles and create new subject matter in order to breathe new life into cinema. At the same time, they should also include an awareness of the filmmaking process, the history, the politics and the cultural ideology into the film. This philosophy is very much a postmodern approach to cinema.
Godard passionately believed that a director should make his or her film as a “personal essay.” A visual essay that should include everything that influences the filmmaker at the time of production without judging whether it fits into an approved aesthetic model. In the case of Breathless, it meant selecting a minimal story, even a Hollywood cliché story of a girl and a wannabe gangster; a story that essentially offers no new surprises. The goal is to bring everything into the mix that moves the director with the additional goal to make the film highly self-referential, or in our terms, self-reflexive. Godard emphasized that it was important to make the audience aware that the film is a fictional construct utilizing a culturally approved cinematic apparatus and process. From this new perspective, we might be able to learn something about the process of cinema and of life itself. The ultimate goal here was to provide a truer more honest model for cinema that is also fun, enjoyable, meaningful and more personal. In the end, Godard succeeded far beyond what he might have expected.
Pay attention to the tone and style of the film that Godard creates:
- How would you describe the camera style (shots and movement) that Godard used in Breathless?
- The film is full of literary and artistic references from very high and very low sources (Movies, painting, poetry, novels, music, philosophy, and popular culture). See if you can recognize and identify some of them.
- After seeing the film, what are you feelings about the principal characters, Michel and Patricia? Do you like them or care about them. Do you identify with them? How do you think Godard wants you to feel about them?
- The film was revolutionary at the time and its influence is still felt today. Does some on that feeling of excitement and discovery come through to you some 50 years later?
- Describe some of the things about the film that impressed you or surprised you the most?