Monday, November 21, 2016

Foreign Film Spotlight: A BOUT DE SOUFFLE (BREATHLESS)

Some of the best films ever are ones that the general audience has never seen, and this is because they were made outside of the United States. Welcome to another installment of FOREIGN FILM SPOTLIGHT, where we showcase some of the best in foreign cinema to help broaden your horizons.  This week I'll be reviewing a groundbreaking French film that first introduced me to foreign cinema, Jean Luc Godard's A BOUT DE SOUFFLE (BREATHLESS) from 1960.

The first time I watched Breathless was in a small liberal arts film class. I remember taking notes about jump cuts and French New Wave cinema. The first image that struck me the most was seeing a handsome young man that was a combination of James Dean and Humphrey Bogart. That young man was actor Jean-Paul Bulmundo, who played the rebellious Michel. He had a great screen presence about him.

Breathless reminded me of Romeo and Juliet because of the relationship between Michel and his American girlfriend, Patricia. They came from two different worlds, she was an aspiring journalist and he was on the run from the police. I enjoyed watching the film because of the editing and the characterization of the actors.

One of my favorite scenes was between Michel and Humphrey Bogart. Michel was walking by a movie theater and saw a poster of Humphrey Bogart. The camera kept cutting from Michel's face to Bogart's face. The purpose of the scene was to show the audience Michels' appreciation of Bogie. Here is a link to the scene:

What makes Breathless an important film in cinematic history? The answer is the editing; this film made jump cuts popular in the film industry. Jean Luc Godard said that the cuts were of economic necessity because the film was 2 hours and 30 minutes long and he had only been contracted to do a 90 minute film. Here is a quote from the man himself about the editing of his film: "I remember very clearly--how I invented this famous way of cutting, that is now used in commercials: we took all the shots and systematically cut out whatever could be cut, while trying to maintain some rhythm."

The critical reception was mixed to say the least. In his review of it, Roger Ebert said: "No debut film since Citizen Kane in 1942 has been as influential." Ebert called Breathless's "headlong pacing, its cool detachment, its dismissal of authority, and the way its narcissistic young heroes are obsessed with themselves and oblivious to the larger society" as revolutionary.  It has a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Breathless has a profound impact on the film industry that can still be seen today. An American version of it was made in 1983. I haven't seen it, but I'd probably still prefer the 1960 version over it. If you want to expand your horizons and not just watch some mundane film about a date or a break-up, then give Breathless a try.

Lisa's Score: 9/10

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