Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a young petty criminal who models himself on the film persona of Humphrey Bogart. After stealing a car in Marseille, Michel shoots a policeman who has followed him onto a country road. Penniless and on the run from the police, he turns to his American girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg), a student and aspiring journalist, who sells the New York Herald Tribune on the streets of Paris. The ambivalent Patricia unwittingly hides him in her apartment as he simultaneously tries to seduce her and call in a loan to fund their escape to Italy. At one point, Patricia says she is pregnant with Michel's child. She learns that Michel is on the run when questioned by the police. Eventually, she betrays him, but before the police arrive, she tells Michel what she did. He is somewhat resigned to a life in prison, and does not try to escape at first. The police shoot him in the street and, after a prolonged death run, he dies “à bout de souffle” (at breath's end).
Production Jean-Paul Belmondo had already appeared in a few feature films prior to Breathless, but he had no name recognition outside of France at the time Godard was planning the film. In order to broaden the film's commercial appeal, Godard sought out a prominent leading lady who would be willing to work in his low-budget film. He came to Jean Seberg through her then-husband, Francois Moreuil, with whom he had been acquainted. During the production, Seberg privately questioned Godard's style and wondered if the film would be commercially viable. After the film's success, she collaborated with Godard again on the short Le grand escroc, which revived her Breathless character.
Filming Godard envisaged Breathless as a reportage (documentary), and tasked cinematographer Raoul Coutard to shoot the entire film on a handheld camera, with next to no lighting. The production was filmed on location in Paris during the months of August and September in 1959, using an Eclair Cameflex. Almost the whole film had to be dubbed in postproduction because of the noisiness of the Cameflex camera.
Coutard has also stated that the film was virtually improvised on the spot, with Godard writing lines of dialogue in an exercise book, giving the lines to Belmondo and Seberg, having a few brief rehearsals on scenes involved, then filming them. No permission was received to shoot the film in its various locations (mainly the side streets and boulevards of Paris) either, adding to the spontaneous feel that Godard was aiming for.
Reception According to the New York Times, Breathless is both “a pop artifact and a daring work of art” and even at 50, “still cool, still new, still — after all this time! — a bulletin from the future of movies”.
The film currently holds a 96% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Breathless ranked as the #15 best film of all time in the British Film Institute's 2002 Sight and Sound Critics' Poll.
In popular culture The film is frequently referenced in the Youth in Revolt book series, being a favorite of female protagonist Sheeni Saunders, including her dreams of running off to France and her fascination for Jean-Paul Belmondo. In The Doom Generation, characters play the "smile or I'll choke you" game and the film's semi-general theme of "nihilistic road movie". The american band The Death Set named their album from 2011 after main character Michel Poiccard.
Feature film Genres : Fiction Sub-genre : Drama, Romance Themes : Murder Production language : French, English Nationality : 100% French (France) Production year : 1959 French release : 16/03/1960 Runtime : 1 h 30 min Visa issue date : 17/12/1993 Approval : Unknown Production formats :
35mm Color type : Black & White Aspect ratio : 1.37 Sound format : Mono