Fifty-five years since its debut and Jean-Luc Godard’s unforgettable “Breathless” hasn’t lost a bit of its edge. There’s not a single scene that feels dated or out of step – if anything, the legendary director’s furious, passionate tale of love and murder on the streets of Paris feels even more modern now then it did back in 1960.
There’s so much that’s iconic about the film that arguably started the French New Wave – the pouty amorality of star Jean-Paul Belmondo; Jean Seberg’s worldly sexuality; the director’s famous use of jump cuts; the jazzy, dangerous evocation of Paris in the late 50’s/early 60’s – that it’s honestly a bit difficult to know where to begin when discussing it. Thankfully, a new video essay (courtesy of The Nerdwriter) has just landed on our laps, and it takes a good, hard look at the cultural reverberations that Godard’s film has had throughout the second half of the 20th century.
Many of Godard’s characters are themselves rabid consumers of cinema (as well as other popular media) and “Breathless” is one of the first films I can remember that seems to know that it’s a movie: it’s aware of its capacity for cliché; it’s a fictional mechanism of sorts, replete with all the structural drawbacks that a title like that would imply (stock characters, overblown dialogue, etc.) The movie itself is about life as art, or more specifically, life as cinema, and it’s no surprise that the film is beloved by Quentin Tarantino (who appears early in the video via archival interviews and has confessed several times that he genuinely digs the Richard Gere-starring remake). For anyone looking to educate themselves on “Breathless” and its essential place in mid-century world cinema, look no further.