1 December 2005 | IZMatt
To those who "don't understand"
I don't blame those who state that they do not "understand" the superlatives surrounding Jean-Luc Godard's 1960 masterpiece, Breathless. It's primarily because to appreciate Breathless, one has to view the movie from a historical context, which also requires studying of not only the French New Wave, but film theories as a whole, and the lives of those apart of the New Wave. Breathless accomplished many things unprecedented prior (many completely unprecedented, but some things are not-so-much).
Roger Ebert put it best when he said that just as film fanatics may now stand outside a movie theatre waiting for the next Quentin Tarantino movie to be released, film enthusiasts were doing so for Godard in the 1960s. He was a revolutionary, which is why MovieMaker magazine called him the 4th most influential director of ALL-TIME (only behind Welles, Griffith, and Hitchcock)! What did Godard do different? Breathless is all style, simple as that. The story line is interesting, yes, but is Godard's aesthetics, production modes, subject matters, and storytelling methods that are key. First of all, the whole movie was shot on a hand-held camera, just like most all New Wave pictures. It was, however, only shot by two people (Godard and his cinematographer, Rouald) on a budget that did not top $50,000, a mere fraction of what most pictures cost at the time (another facet of the New Wave). It was shot completely on location in Paris, and utilized new film-making techniques that would be used by film-making students for decades to come (such as putting the camera in a mail cart on the Champs Elysees and following Belmondo and Seberg). Note Godard's use of American cinema influence, and how the montage art of the 1950s impacted this aesthetic.
(A brief New Wave lesson: Most New Wave directors were displeased with the "tradition of quality," or the older generation directors who, as Truffaut put it, made the "twelve or so" pictures per year that represented France at Venice and Cannes. Most of these pictures classic or modern literary adaptations, completely stagnant in artistic quality with rehashed subject matters based on historical periods. New Wave directors supported NEW tales of modern Parisian life, primarily, and were sick of the themes found in the tradition of quality films.) The storytelling methods in Breathless are perhaps the most fascinating part of the film. The jump cuts may seem lame, but one must again view them from a historical context: it had never been done before. This is exactly why Breathless is important -- practically every technique was revolutionary. They are so submerged into film-making practices now that Breathless seems typical. Yet at the time, it was, as I said prior, unprecedented.