Dec 05 2010

Film analysis #2- À bout de souffle/ Breathless

Published by at 3:41 am under Uncategorized

     À bout de souffle/Breathless (1960) is a New Wave film. It is directed by Jean-Luc Godard and is distributed by Films Around the World, Inc. It is a story about a young French gangster, Michel Poiccard, who steals a car and kills a policeman. He then runs away and meets Patricia Franchini, who is a newspaper salesperson and an American who tries to be a writer. Michel falls in love with Patricia and frequently tries to persuade her to go to Italy with him while the policemen are chasing him; but Patricia doesn’t know whether she is in love with Michel or not and that is what we see in the film- her hesitation towards her career and the relationship with Michel. 
    Miles Davis’s “All Blues”, song plays in the background, giving the audience a playful and gangster-like vibe. In the first scene, Godard used jump cut to draw people’s attention: Michel is reading a newspaper in the street and suddenly, the movie shows audience a girl’s face. This makes the audience feel confused and thus pay more attention to the movie. However, this scene is more like an introduction or a foreshadowing. The real beginning to the film is the scene in which Michel drives the stolen car, talking to both himself and the audiences (direct address) and running across the meadow after he has murdered a policeman.

Direct address

     The scene, in which Patricia is sitting aside the street and waiting for Michel to go get “his” car is what I will analyze. Due to the small filming budget and the idea of representing real life, mise-en-scene, natural lighting and direct sound are found in this scene and Godard didn’t even clear the shooting area up, so there are many people looking at the protagonists in this scene. Direct sound is sound that is recorded on location and that is why audience would hear cars and children in this scene. Non-diegetic sound is also found in this scene that Godard used music for describing the electricity or atmosphere between Michel and Patricia. To emphasize this atmosphere, he also used medium shot and let them be the focus of the moment. Elliptical editing in this scene: the owner of an American car sees Michel is trying to steal his car and then the next shot is he crossing the street and trying to steal another car. That jumping from this shot to another unrelated shot is also known as jump cut. Without mentioning the consequence of the act of Michel, the effect of elliptical editing is obvious: audience are forced to think about the plot instead of following it blindly and it also leaves audience surprise and freshness. This scene is very important for the film because it depicts how Michel acts and thus indicates his personality. The rudeness and impulsivity he has is like a trademark of this film. Plus, it shows the relationship and atmosphere between Michel and Patricia which is one of the important elements in this film.

Mise-en-scene and natural lighting

Atmosphere between Michel and Patricia and medium shot

Elliptical editing and jump cut

     À bout de souffle is very different from the movies I have ever seen. Godard used a lot of time to describe protagonists’ personalities and the ways they have relationships with people and the way they live in the film. With Michel sexually harrassing girls and him stealing people’s money, audience can tell what a rogue he is. Plus, with the way Patricia dresses, lives and talks to men, audience can also tell that she is independent financially, socially, mentally and sexually. In À bout de souffle , Godard seems to insert a lot of his comments on new female generation, those comments are obvious in the scene that Parvulesco, a novelis,t is being interviewed by journalists. Parvulesco, or Godard, thinks that American women are different from French women that they dominate men. He thinks that women are more sentimental than men and there is no difference between eroticism and love because eroticism is a form of love, and vice versa. He also thinks that new female generation can have countless men if they want. In Parvulesco’s interview, Godard also seems to express his philosophy of life – “…there are two things matter in life. For men, it‘s women, and for women, it‘s money.” and “to become immortal and then die.”

 Michel sexual harassing girl in the street
 “More than that…” 
  Stealing money from his friend

     Godard is similar to other New Wave filmmakers. Many of the New Wave filmmakers first worked as film critics and started making films when they were unsatisfied with “cinema de papa“ in France in the 1960s. They wanted to make films in a different way and that way needed to be fresh. Since those New Wave filmmakers were critics at first, they lack practical skills and that is why there would be jump cuts and elliptical editing in New Wave cinema. New Wave filmmakers were self-conscious about filmmaking – the material of the film which is sounds and images. They were also conscious about the art of cinema and would keep thinking cinema as a medium of art. As a result, there would be differences between “cinema de papa” and New Wave cinema. “Cinema de papa” is purely a copy of a novel and then film the “revised script” without thinking how ridiculous and dramatic the plot actually is. Therefore, “cinema de papa” is lifeless and maybe even hilarious. On the other hand, New Wave cinema focuses on real life. This is what New Wave filmmakers want – cinema or an art form that represents people’s real lives and so mise-en-scene, natural lighting and direct sound are commonly found in New Wave cinema. This kind of cinematography also leads to small filming budgets and unique cinematic style.

     À bout de souffle is a New Wave film and cinematograph, like mise-en-scene and natural lighting, is used for indicating the idea of a medium of art which represents people’s real lives; this is totally different from “cinema de papa”. À bout de souffle gives audience freshness and surprises; it also forces people to be aware of the filmic progress rather than only focusing on the plot.

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9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Film analysis #2- À bout de souffle/ Breathless”

  1.   Cathyon 13 Dec 2010 at 8:46 am

    This film uses a lot of direct scenes of driving, which make me feel like I am really taking his car. I also see the film provides a lot street views. It is a small film, but it is closer to the real life. The story itself might lack of plots. However, the last scene is so ironic about how people to define love.

  2.   Sinyee Cindy Leungon 13 Dec 2010 at 10:12 am

    that’s true…and i am not sure why Patricia runs after Michel and tries to see if he is fine….i guess women are complicated and we are born to be sentimental…

  3.   Amy Herzogon 28 Dec 2010 at 4:06 pm

    This is a wonderfully detailed and observant analysis! And I want to thank you for your tremendous hard work this semester– the questions that you posed in your posts and outside class were very insightful, and pushed us all to think more critically about the larger significance of cinema in our global culture (myself included!).

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