Godard’s groundbreaking film Breathless (1960) Director Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless
Classic, masterpiece, and groundbreaking describe films that have been influential in changing conventional approaches to film making. The altered conventions of filmmaking may refer to technical innovations, directorial influences, and storytelling techniques.
Breathless changed the filmmaking landscape and altered audience’s perceptions and expectations of how films are made.
"Photography is truth. The cinema is truth twenty-four times per second"
Jean-Luc Godard’s directorial and editing style when making Breathless, when coupled with Francois Truffaut’s story and Claude Chabrol’s technical advice, created a film that became a tour de force of change in filmmaking.
Any film that is dubbed a masterpiece will not appeal to everyone. The elements, from editing to sound recording to narrative structures, that make a film groundbreaking may be the very things that alienate audiences who expect more conventional approaches to film making. Keep that in mind if you choose to watch Breathless.
Breathless Official Trailer (Studio Canal)
Breathless is a film noir detective story. Petty criminal Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a narcissist and an opportunist. His fortunes change when he shoots and kills a motorcycle cop. Belmondo seeks out his paramour, Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg), who works for the New York Herald Tribune in Paris, without telling her that he is wanted by the police for murder. She is equally narcissistic. Their actions and behaviours are seen through a lens of self-absorption.
Poiccard (Belmondo) and Franchini (Seberg)
Poiccard only thinks of himself and his immediate needs. He steals impulsively from people he loosely calls friends. He is less concerned with the implications of his actions and their effects on others than his self-indulgence.
The detective story and Poiccard's attempts to evade capture by the police is subsumed by the narcissistic behaviour of the protagonists and their disregard for social norms.
Breathless is often cited for the jump cuts that are scattered throughout the film. But it is more than the fast-paced editing and jump cuts that distinguish Breathless as a groundbreaking feature film.
Director Jean-Luc Godard Godard , indeed, arranged the film using jump cuts throughout the film. He also shot the film using a documentary approach—cinema verite style—with low-light black and white film and portable hand-held cameras, which at that time were not lightweight.
ABOUT CINÉMA VÉRITÉ
One anecdote (thank you to Peter H, film academic) recounts how Godard’s cinematographer, Raoul Coutard, carried the Eclair Cameflex camera while running up and down flights of stairs to prepare himself for the daily shooting schedule.
Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard shooting Breathless
"No one had ever proposed shooting an entire fiction film handheld…Each time we made a movie, Godard set out to do something other people didn’t do," Coutard explained. "It was a sort of provocation. The process was a bit like when I was a photojournalist. When I was moving the camera, there were no instructions; Jean-Luc would just say, ‘You follow her,’ or ‘You don’t follow her.’ He wanted everything to be very fresh, so he'd just tell them what movements they had to do.”
From the article “RIP 'Breathless' Cinematographer Raoul Coutard: How He Transformed Cinema”
The Eclair Cameflex camera allowed Godard to move about Paris quickly without the restrictions of setting up artificial lighting. Godard would shout actors’ lines while filming because he changed the script and dialogue as he was filming and then dubbed dialogue in post production.
As for the jump cuts, one suggestion is that the jump cuts were inadvertent results of the film being too long and Godard simply chopping frames in the middle of shots to reduce the film’s running time which resulted in the jump cuts.
ABOUT JUMP CUTS (featuring a scene from Godard’s Breathless)
Click link below the photo to access the scene
Godard’s shift from conventional filmmaking broke conventions for feature films. They were admired by some critics and audiences and abhorred by others. Regardless of whether you admire the film or feel you prefer conventional film structures, Breathless is an important film and worth watching. It will help you determine how you view films and show that not all filmmakers are interested in making films exactly as they have always been made. And the key is that conventions are systemised, ingrained approaches to film making, not hard and fast rules.
From Roger Ebert’s Review July 20, 2003”
“Modern movies begin here, with Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" in 1960. No debut film since Citizen Kane in 1942 has been as influential. It is dutifully repeated that Godard's technique of "jump cuts" is the great breakthrough, but startling as they were, they were actually an afterthought, and what is most revolutionary about the movie is its 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.
Read Roger Ebert’s Full Review:
Even for the non-smokers in the audience, when you’ve finished watching Breathless, you’ll either feel like lighting up a cigarette or whacking on a nicotine patch. The cigarette is ubiquitous in Breathless.
My summary of the changes brought about by the French New Wave and film theorists and directors such as Godard, Truffaut, and Chabrol is that they turned to filmmaking as a way to put into practice their theories about the nature of filmmaking. Their films were visual essays exemplifying their film theories.
But the final word about Godard’s film style I will leave to Godard himself. This quote epitomises his critical approach and overview of filmmaking:
“A film should have a beginning, a middle and an end,
but not necessarily in that order.”
Breathless (Restored 4K version) had limited screenings at the Alliance Francáis French Film Festival 2021
LEARN MORE about Breathless, Godard and French New Wave Cinema
Missed the French Film Festival? You can still watch Breathless and read/watch lots of background information and opinions about the movie at:
Or you can rent it (a mere $4.99—no, I don’t get a kickback) through The Australian Centre for the Moving Image website: