“Breathless” - Film Deep Focus

Story posted November 18, 2022 in CommRadio, Arts & Entertainment by Matthew Peters

“To make a film, all you need is a girl and a gun.”

This quote from director Jean-Luc Godard guided his creativity and highlighted the standard of 1950s-60s cinema. Godard kept this idea in mind when directing the 1960 French masterpiece, “Breathless,” where the movie’s premise consists precisely of this concept.

Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a mysterious French criminal on the run from the Parisian police after stealing multiple cars and shooting a police officer. He reconnects with Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg), a young American journalist working in Paris for the New York Herald. Although Michel has feelings for Patricia, she is unsure of her feelings toward Michel.

Both characters struggle with their identities and their purposes in life throughout the film. Michel’s fedora, cigarette and suave gangster persona leave the viewer questioning whether this is reality or if he merely plays a role within a role, mirroring the image of gangsters of the early 20th century.

Patricia is not unhappy with her job with the New Yorker; however, she struggles to find her place within the company and faces adversity being a woman journalist in the 1950s. In a meeting with her boss, Patricia says, “I don’t know if I’m unhappy because I am not free or if I’m not free because I’m unhappy.” This could be referring to her relationship with Michel and the threat he poses to her legal safety, or this could be about her internal issues.

Michel is persistent in developing a relationship with Patricia; however, it is clear the two characters are not on the same page. Once Patricia is aware that the police are searching for Michel, she must decide to either be loyal or save herself and turn him in. In a test to see whether or not she truly loves him, she calls the police and notifies him that he will be arrested, proving to herself that she doesn’t love him and can live without him.

The film was initially titled “A Bout de Souffle” or “Out of Breath.” Michel aptly meets his fate in a somewhat ironic way when he collapses, out of breath, while running from the police. In his final moments, Michel makes peace with his future in a dramatic scene resulting in his death.

From a directing standpoint, adding “jump cuts,” when the director switches shots to create the effect of jumping forward in time, was revolutionary and added a sense of urgency to the scene. This was most prominent in the scene where Michel killed the police officer, which enhanced the scene’s confusion and chaos.

Breathless is considered Godard’s best film and one of the first movies of the “French New Wave” cinema. The film speaks to each individual’s perception of themselves compared to what they are, as well as the idea of love and its place in relationships. “Breathless” is a classic example of an early 1960s film noir.

Rating: 5/5

Matthew Peters is a first-year majoring in Journalism. To contact him, email mbp5830@psu.edu.