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December 6, 2011

Breathless (1960) directed by Jean-Luc Godard, Les Productions Georges de Beauregard-S.N.C.

Filed under: Analysis Project # 2 — Daniel Min @ 2:17 am

“Breathless” Á Bout De Souffle is a delightful comedy about a restless young couple roaming in the streets of Paris. A loose structural of a narrative that is told through use of playful humor, improvisational theme of petty crime, small hysterical gestures of rubbing lips, exotic portrayal of young Parisians and grand composition of a spectacular night life in Champs-Élysées which is evidently the work of the Nouvelle Vague maverick film director Jean Luc Godard. A Godardian experience to witness such an exotic and entertaining film that mesmerizes us to reflect on the naivety and amorality of our youth. [1]


Formal Analysis: Patricia arrives at the airport wearing an expensive pinstriped dress recently bought from Dior for an important press conference with Mr. Parvulesco played by the well respected author/director Jean-Pierre Melville. It takes place at an airport where the interview is to be conducted by various reporters from different media outlets asking deep philosophical yet frivolous questions of modern society, his opinion between French and American women, the romanticism of modern women and his ambition in life.

The scene initially iris-out at the entry gate of the airport where Patricia tells her lover that the interview will only last for thirty minutes. A following shot ensues as she delicately walks up the stairs to the upper platform to which Poiccard calls out her name and continues to the shot where we see his mug at a close up. From there we see him wearing an aviator sunglasses and a fedora as he nonchalantly exhales the smoke from a loosely wrapped cigarette. Both of these characters are wearing sunglasses to look more cosmpolitanly cultivated and share similar taste of formal attire much like what Parisians wear as the camera cuts back to her with a close up. The camera cuts to a medium shot of Poiccard swinging his fist like a drunken boxer as he is standing behind the door to where Mr. Parvulesco walks out of the terminal. It then cuts back to Patricia with the same close up  to where Mr. Parvulesco is right in front of her as he walks up the stairs in the far distance of this shot. Lastly we see Poiccard at a close up exiting the scene as he rubs his lips with his thumb to show an idiosyncratic gesture.


The Interview takes place on the upper platform of Aéroport de Paris where the famous author discusses various topics on love and modern society. It begins with a close up shot of Mr. Parvulesco at a mid high angle as he’s mentioning about the prudishness of French literature critics after releasing his new novel titled “Candida”. It then cuts to another interviewer sitting adjacent to him asking whether if “one could still believe love in our time” to which Mr. Parvulesco replies with certainty that it is most relevant, “especially in our time”. The shot still maintains a continuous flow of having one interview asking questions to the next as it intermittently cuts from the media representatives to Mr. Parvulesco and Patricia.

Another close up shot to a different interviewer asks Mr. Parvulesco on his opinion about the great poet Rilke, if he was right to say that “modern life will increasingly separate men and women”. Afterwards the camera cuts back to Mr. Parvulesco at a mid angle to break off the continuity in order to be in the same level with the interviewee. Then the camera cuts to a close up shot of the female interviewer asking Mr. Parvulesco’s opinion whether if “French women are romantically different from the Americans” as the shot resembles a portrait to the left side of her face. The camera maintains a close up of Mr. Parvulesco as he answers the question to the interviewer on his left that French women are “totally unlike American women”. The camera is still fixated at a mid level to his face and instantaneously cuts to Patricia as she asks him “what is your greatest ambition in life?”, from there we see Mr. Parvulesco’s face except he doesn’t reply with an answer, instead the sound transitions to an off-screen sound as we hear more questions in the background about whether “if men are more immoral than women” and “if women are more sentimental than men?” The camera cuts back to Patricia with a close projecting the off-screen sound as we hear him reply that “Feelings are a luxury few women indulge in”.


The sound goes back to being in synch with the character as the camera cuts to another close up to a different interviewer asking Mr. Parvulesco whether if “there [is] a difference between eroticism and love?” The camera finally breaks off from a mid angle and goes back to mid high angle with a close up as he replies that “there is no difference [since] eroticism is a form of love and vice versa”. From this shot we hear a diegetic sound coming from an airplane as we get to see it taking off in the background. The camera then instantaneously shifts back to mid level at a different angle as we get to see the right side of Patricia’s face asking Mr. Parvulesco “[are] women are capable enough to play a role in modern society?”

It cuts back to Mr. Parvulesco at mid level just like before however this shot is contrast with the other ones because this is a frontality shot, he is looking into the camera as if we’re engaging a conversation in which he replies to Patricia “If they’re charming and wear striped dresses and dark glasses”. The camera cuts to Patricia’s initial response of being flattered as we get to hear more interviewers from the background in which it instantaneously cuts to the person on Mr. Parvulesco’s right about “how many men can a woman love in a lifetime?”. It cuts back to mid level close up of him giving him the answers by counting his fingers and eventually ends up displaying his whole hand to show that they will go through more than that in their lifetime. Afterwards he responds that there are “two things matter in life. For men it’s women, and for women, money”.


The camera cuts from Patricia to the interviewer and back to Mr. Parvulesco at a high angle with a close up but instantaneously shifted 30 degrees to the right as we no longer see the plane taking off in the background. It shows his face with the cameraman reflecting on his aviator glasses as he is stating that“If you see a pretty girl with a rich man, you know she’s nice and he’s a bastard”. It cuts back to the cameraman with the same close up however you could notice one instance of a jump cut as he is readjusting his lens. It cuts back to Mr. Parvulesco at a mid level close up back to the original angle where we could have seen the airplane taking off in the background. The camera then cuts to a woman who is walking toward his left asking him whether if he likes the musician Brahms, afterwards it straight cuts to the cameraman’s equipment while we’re observing a reel tape mechanically reeling in as we hear the off screen replies of Mr. Parvulesco saying “like everyone, no” and “[listening] to Chopin, makes me want to puke!”.

It cuts back to Patricia asking Mr. Parvulesco on “What’s [his] greatest ambition in life?” as she readjusts her hair where it does another instance of a jump cut, much like the other one with the cameraman when he was readjusting his equipment. Lastly the camera cuts back to Mr. Parvulesco with a close up as he takes off his aviator glass and replies “To become immortal, and then die.” Finally we see a close up of Patricia taking off her sunglasses by staring into the camera with looks of concern as we get to hear non-diegetic music by Miles Davis coming in as this shot dissolves into a different scene.


This particular scene presents an empathetic allusion to the work of Jean-Pierre Melville who was known to have directed some of the most outstanding films during the era of Nouvelle Vague. Although he wasn’t necessarily part of the movement, he already established himself as a talented film director belonging to a generation of resistance member that heavily fought against the occupation during the war and went on to release numerous of successful films that clearly demonstrated his creativity by fragmenting observation into minutes as the actions are played out in real time (which is evident as he advised Godard to do some unconventional editing for Breathless). [2] A mutual collaboration in which he is the big brother giving advice to all these young directors coming out of France (Francois Truffaut wrote the screenplay for Breathless as well as Claude Chabrol who took part as the technical advisor). Part of Godard’s editing is incredibly diverse in terms of materiality, the scene starts off with a round opening mask that “irises-in”, next comes  a “following shot”  of Patricia climbing up the stairs as we get to observe the daintiness of Jean Seberg, much like some of the other scene where she walks around Champs-Élysées selling papers for New York Herald Tribune. Godard also displays each close up shots in a different angle to give us a sense of discontinuity however he doesn’t necessarily disorients us, instead he does this with an editing known as “jump cut” in order to maintain the logicality by compressing time.

Godard is a versatile director who knows how to diversify his editing with multiple techniques. This particular scene encapsulates all of his skills in a random disposition yet it reasonably connects itself seamlessly as it emphasizes the ilk (spirit) of the Nouvelle Vague. According to Godard it is “the sort of film where anything goes” in which “[he] also wanted to give the feeling that the techniques of film-making had just been discovered or experienced for the first time”. [3] It is perhaps a bold statement against conventional mainstream cinema as they’re (Rivette, Truffaut, Rohmer, Godard) violating the rules that strictly adheres to continuity editing, coherence of the narrative and the practicality of working within a tight budget in order to confront against the conformity that is brought upon by France during its era of socio-political stigma set forth by de-Gaulle.




[3] Godard, Jean-Luc “From Critic to Film-Maker”


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