Last week I found myself researching online for French New Wave films. The funny thing is that I can’t remember why I decided to do it. Oh wait, now I remember, I was looking up cinema verite films and out of cinema verite you have French New Wave.If you don’t remember or didn’t read my last review, I mentioned cinema verite, which literally means film truth.
The narrative film is shot almost like a documentary, with handheld cameras and using mostly only available lighting. French New Wave is a movement in France that embodied cinema verite. One fine example is the film Breathless (A bout de souffl), created by Jean-Luc Godard.
Breathless is about Michel Poiccard or to some people, Laszlo Kovacs. Early in the movie, Michel is driving down the road in a stolen car and is stopped by the police. Since he stole the car, he doesn’t want to get caught so he shoots the police officer. For the rest of the movie, Michel tries to persuade a girl he is in love with to hide out in Italy.
Breathless is a film for some that may be confusing, boring, and foreign. The film was shot on a shoestring budget, so don’t expect any fancy camera moves, big explosions or luxurious sets. In fact, a person who would enjoy this movie the most would probably be someone who enjoys documentaries. The style of the cinematography stays true to documentary filmmaking — long hand-held shots, and real locations. The only thing that separates this movie from a documentary is the absence of interviews.
People of the modern age may enjoy Breathless since many reality TV shows, shows on MTV or other modern movies from Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez have adapted the same techniques used by Jean-Luc Godard. Some of these techniques are jump cuts (when there appears to be a sudden jolt in time when a section of film is taken out creating a jump from lets say frame 40 to frame 65), handheld cameras and improvised/lengthy conversations.
Breathless is mostly conversation, but the topics they converse on are quite interesting and jump from one topic to the next with out further notice. Many of the conversations are edited together with the jump cuts, so the topics can go from one to the other without hesitation.
At first the conversations did seem to be a bit confusing because of their sudden switching of topics, but after watching the movie two or three times, I started to appreciate it more. This is the type of movie that requires you to watch it many times for two reasons; one, because it’s a really good movie and two, because you can’t absorb every detail in one pass like to tie what the characters say to each other to different scenes and to find the little references, like how Michel is modeled after characters played by Humphrey Bogart.
It’s no surprise that there is a Humphrey Bogart reference, since many of the new wave filmmakers saw the successful filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock or film noir movies such as the ones with Bogart as models or examples to learn from – even though the style of new wave is very anti Hollywood.
To wrap it up, Breathless may leave you A bout de souffle (out of breath) or it may bore you completely. If you have an interest in foreign films or if you want to expand your mind in the art world, then go to your nearest video rental store or buy it
This is the type of movie that won’t let you just stare at it and let it go through one ear and out the other, you have to pay attention and actually think. I know thinking may be hard for some people, but many of Jean Luc Godard’s films are like this, particularly, Pierrot le fou and Alphaville. They make you think about what’s going on, what the underlining themes are and what it could all mean.