BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #27: Breathless, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I studied the French New Wave in my film history classes in college, but I had never seen Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. The filss’ place in cinema history is important, as is its wide sweeping influence on modern filmmakers. As a student of film, Breathless is fascinating to watch. It feels like guerilla filmmaking at times with its rough cuts and quick real-world setups. While those aspects of the film are really enjoyable, the characters and the story are not very fun to watch.
I hated Michel. He made the film difficult to watch for me. Jean-Paul Belmondo’s performance was strong though. He is just charming enough for you to understand why Patricia and other women would be attracted to him. He knows when to turn the charm on, but he was really a terrible person with no discernible moral code, and I found him repugnant for most of the film. His misogynist asides about how terrible women behave is grating from the first few scenes of the film on. The same goes for his horrible treatment of Patricia. When he finds out she is pregnant and tells her she should have been more careful, I wanted to reach through the screen and slap him.
Jean Seberg as Patricia was a highlight of the film. She is strong and bold but she is also a young woman who finds herself pregnant and vulnerable. I was glad they shared the detail about her pregnancy otherwise I would never have bought her going to the lengths she goes to in order to protect Michel from the police and to stay with him. I know love makes fools of us all but she didn’t seem like a fool, she was just young and unsure. I also love her American-accented French, as I could understand a lot more of her French than Michel’s and it was a fun reminder of my high school French classes.
Despite its unlikable characters, Breathless doesn’t lack feeling. It is a compelling story to watch with a satisfying ending. The strange departure the story takes when Patricia goes to the press conference at the airport felt disconnected from the rest of the film and I am not sure what purpose it served. But I liked the way the film spent about fifteen minutes in Patricia’s tiny apartment with the two of them just talking and listening to music and discussing art and life. It felt authentic and reminded me of films like Before Sunrise and Annie Hall. Whether those films were directly influenced by Breathless, I don’t know, but it certainly speaks to the long reaching influence of the French New Wave.
I don’t think this is a film that I’ll revisit in a hurry but I’m glad I’ve seen it and that the French New Wave was part of the Battleship Pretension Top 100 challenge.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Breathless ranking: Submarine