Talking about your top five movies gets you through a lot. They get you through awkward first dates, they help find you friends in smoky rooms at college, they make days at work pass by more pleasantly and they introduce you to films you otherwise may never have seen. A bout de soufflé (‘Breathless’ in English) is a film that like another currently showing at FACT, Blade Runner: The Final Cut, is one of those movies that routinely makes it onto those lists.
There’s a reason it appears in those lists year after year. It’s cool. Drop this film in your Top five list and you can but hope that some of the Gallic gangster swagger of its lead actor, Jean-Paul Belmondo, rubs off on you as talk about the French New Wave, Goddard, Truffaut and how this film changed cinema.
And it did. On one level you get a B-movie gangster plot, imitating as does Belmondo’s character Michel Poiccard, the movies of Bogart. But then the jazz, the jump cuts, the tearing down of the fourth wall and the sheer fuck you attitude of the thing, combined with the technical kick in the nuts to the established way of film making that had gone before takes you on a wild nihilistic trip through Paris that leaves you...well, you get the picture.
Goddard was 28 when he made this movie, a rejection of the stylistic conventions of what he and Truffaut saw had become of French cinema and which he had routinely trashed in his role as a film critic for the magazine Les Cahiers du Cinema. It was shot in four weeks, in locations personal to Goddard (like the long bedroom scene in Hotel Suede where Goddard stayed upon his return from South America), in natural light and although there was a screenplay, much of the dialogue was improvised or written on the spot by Goddard scribbling away in his notepad whilst filming. The youthful arrogance behind such film making on the fly, editing it with the now legendary use of jump cuts, comes through like a strong espresso and a hit of a Gitanes in every scene, and like the jazz that accompanies it means the film still feels fresh and dances to its own tune.
Goddard said that all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun and 55 years later (FACT is showing the 50th anniversary edition released in 2010) Breathless still makes me want to grab a gun (and let’s be clear guns are not cool unless wielded by Belmondo whilst wearing a hat), go find the girl (and what a girl Jean Seberg is, selling the New York Tribune in Paris with her cutesy pie American accent and yet just as cool and detached and ultimately more ruthless than Michel) and jump in an open top car to blast through police barricades and head to Paris.
And as for Breathless making your top five? These lists change week by week, year by year and dependent on time and place. But it’s April, and Paris is always the place to be in April.
Breathless is showing on Sunday 12 April, 6pm. Get your tickets here.