No 125 - À Bout de Souffle (Breathless)
Director - Jean-Luc Godard
I was first introduced to the work of Godard through the film The Dreamers - which included footage of his films amongst the shots of sexual confusion and Eva Green's vagina (that sounds dismissive: it is a brilliant film. I highly recommend it).
Subsequently, my mother bought this film as it was on offer - she found it intolerably dull and couldn't believe that I didn't. So she gave it to me.
This film isn't dull... it is cool. Even though nothing really happens for the majority of the film (besides the important events which bookend it).
We follow Michel (played by the delightfully world weary Jean-Paul Belmondo - haggard, like a French Bogart); a petty thief who just wants to go to Paris and see the woman he loves. However, through the course of a series of events (brilliantly shown as three quick shots with no transition and no attempt at interconnecting them) he ends up shooting a policeman. Therefore rather than just going to Paris to see a girl, the plan becomes - go to Paris, see a girl, lie low.
This is the majority of the film. So it may not be the most action-packed film in the world, but the set up means we can begin to look deeper into Michel's character. What is interesting about Michel is that he is actually quite likeable, even though he is definitely an amoral, womanising bastard. He is also an incredible chain smoker (I can't think of a single scene where he isn't smoking - at one point he lights a fresh cigarette off his existing one so he can smoke continuously), and he is the horniest man I've seen in film in ages - literally obsessed with sex (like all good French men), and he is obsessed with money - reclaiming the debts that he is apparently owed. The rest of the time he just sneaks into the houses of women he knows and hides there.
The all-important central woman is Patricia: the woman he has decided he loves. The woman he has travelled to Paris to visit. The woman he wants to take to Italy to get away from his cop-killing accident - for which the press are now closing in on him. So let's focus on Patricia - after all, the main scene in this film goes on for at least 30 minutes and takes place in her bedroom. She is played by Jean Seberg - who was BEAUTIFUL, and who died tragically young. Although - like Michel - Patricia is another consistent smoker.
I suppose it is all part of life in France and life in the 60's. Certainly even now - with the older generation - smoking is a big thing in France (and I don't mean that as a crass over-generalisation, but as a genuine observation from having a lot of French family).
What this film does, though, is make it look cool. But then, this film makes everything look cool. It was one of the first films to talk directly to camera. It has suave characters who talk about deep topics. Yes, a lot of what they say comes off as quite pretentious, but it remains cool. It remains dripping with French Chic.
Let us refer back to The Divine Comedy and When the Lights Go Out Over Europe.
The line this time refers to when Patricia goes to a press conference led by Parvulesco, who may be an author or a philosopher (I didn't catch it):
And when she asks
Of his ambition
Is to become eternal
And to die..."
Now - don't be mistaken; this isn't just a film about two people sat in a room talking - it's a film about the gradual pressure which the police put on Michel. The tightening of the screws. And - much like Jules et Jim - it all builds up to a final moment which I don't want to spoil by discussing.
But I highly recommend that you sit down and watch this, because unlike Jules et Jim (which was set around 1914), this film gives you a two hour snapshot of just how bloody cool France was in the 60's.