Part of a trio that commenced the influential French New Wave Cinema era (the other two being Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows and Alain Resnais Hiroshima, Mon Amour) Jean-Lud Goddard’s revolutionary film Breathless (1960) is still a timeless piece of art that improves with age. Maybe it is because of his notable use of the ‘jump-cut’ technique, maybe it was because the film uses Paris as its backdrop, or maybe the success was a result of the power of the three Jean’s. Yes, that’s right. The director and two lead actors, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, all possess the same first name. I find this to be rather remarkable and want to think that it was done on purpose. Either way, the Jean’s created a masterpiece together that has yet to be replicated.
What I enjoyed most were the little sort of bits of trivia scattered throughout the film that were incorporated into the narrative. For example, Jean Seberg’s character is a writer for the New York Herald Tribune, which was a penny press newspaper that focused on crime, which of course is very relevant to the film because the man Seberg’s character ‘loves’ is a criminal and on the run for the entire film.
I would probably rate the two title characters as part of my top ten on-screen romance “couples”. I put couples in quotations because they are never really together but also never really apart. Either way, the two are incredibly beautiful together and the chemistry they work so hard to break down or ignore is prominent. Further, the dialogue of the film is incredibly innovative as it does not follow the traditional ‘girl falls for every word the man says’ routine, as in most American films of the time. Seberg’s character has spunk and challenges men, not giving into them and declaring her independence to be the most important thing. On the other hand, I quite enjoyed Belmondo’s character, Michel. The way he pouted his lips and rubbed them with his thumb is probably one of the most sensuous moments captured in this film. He is also a thief that you root for. You find yourself in this position where you know that everything he is doing is wrong, insulting, rude, and manipulative, yet you want him to get away with it. Oh the French, how they have a way with words and body language. This is definitely a powerful combination that he uses wisely in order to seduce and get what he wants. The only one who does not give into him is Seberg, which is why their pairing is so interesting to watch unfold on screen.
The final scene, where Belmondo looks up at Seberg and says, “You make me puke,” encompasses their love/loath relationship perfectly. Not only are you upset by her betrayal but you can still feel the love between the two. It is such a difficult dynamic yet it is portrayed effortlessly. I appreciated the honesty of their dialogue in the film and almost wish that more people were this candid, instead of holding back their authentic feelings and thoughts.