A bout de souffle

A bout de souffle (DVD)

Senses of Cinema: Jonathan Dawson about A BOUT DE SOUFFLE

Ecrans pour les nuit blanches

Filmzentrale: Urs Richter über A BOUT DE SOUFFLE

See also:
Belmondo sur les plus belles filles du monde (vidéo)

Jean-Luc Godard 1959 86'

Jean-Luc Godard's first feature still looks like it's breaking a whole lot of rules 40 years on. Basically it's a classic chase movie. The action is set off when a young hood Michel Poiccard (his alias is Laszlo Kovacs – in tribute to the great cinematographer of the same name), who adores Humphrey Bogart (the screen persona, that is), kills a cop and goes on the run with a young American girl, the iconic Patricia Franchini, played by Jean Seberg. 26-year-old Jean-Paul Belmondo's performance as the hood marks the real beginning to an extraordinary career as the biggest French star since Jean Gabin.

Godard made the film for the equivalent of 100,000 Australian dollars and dedicated it to Monogram Pictures as a tribute to cheap American gangster movies of his own youth – films that seemed to young auteurs like Jean-Luc to offer so much more than the more elegant, well wrought and polite studio products of France of the '40s and '50s.

À bout de souffle began in this way. I had written the first scene (Jean Seberg on the Champs Elysees) and for the rest I had a pile of notes for each scene. I said to myself, this is terrible, I stopped everything. Then I thought: in a single day... one should be able to complete about a dozen takes. Only instead of planning ahead I shall invent at the last minute! (Godard in Milne, 172-3)

Breathless was instantly hailed as a truly revolutionary movie and the logical outcome of the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) rejection of what they called 'Le Cinema de Papa' (Dad's Cinema). The most patently radical Godardian style was the incessant use of the jump cut, a sudden temporal ellipsis even in the middle of a dialogue take. That's standard practice now but at the time it broke every dictate of the conventional filmmaking manual. In fact this technique was a little more accidental than political. The film, loosely (with a minimal and constantly changing shooting script) based on a 'crim on the run' storyline by François Truffaut, ended up as a rough cut of around two hours long – more the length of the despised blockbusters then and now. To be considered a commercial product the movie needed to lose about 30 minutes, so rather than cut out whole scenes or sequences, Godard elected to trim within the scene, creating the jagged cutting style still so beloved of action filmmakers. Godard just went at the film with the scissors, cutting out anything he thought boring and as a result the whole movie does indeed feel rather 'breathless', each scene seeming to rush jerkily to a finish, with barely enough time to make full sense. Who would have ever guessed that what is now a cinematic cliché (at its most excessive in the late '60s and the '70s) could have had so practical a raison d'etre?

Jonathan Dawson