Thursday, August 12, 2010


Once again, I took a night off from the Hole in the Head Festival to see the 50th anniversary re-release of Breathless. I've seen Godard's film before. I saw it at the Castro about 7 or 8 years ago and I've seen a VHS version before that. I'm beginning to think Breathless is one of those films a person should see every few years because one's opinion of it changes as time passes; at least mine has.

What I recalled about Breathless from previous screenings was how cool Michael (Jean-Paul Belmondo) was (très chic) and how enchanting Patricia (Jean Seberg) was with her pixie cut, New York Herald Tribune t-shirt, American accented French and youthfully detached demeanor.

Now that I'm d'un certain age, Michael and Patricia's charms are not quite so attractive. They're still radiant in their youth and possess an unmistakable panache but their behavior provokes a sense of repulsion. Perhaps it is a "youth is wasted on the young" mindset on my part. Rather than doomed lovers, they seem more like foolish kids who paint themselves into a corner.

The real star of the film is Paris (circa 1960). The city looks fabulous in black & white as filmed by cinematographer Raoul Coutard. It made me long for a time and place I can never visit. The film make me want to listen to Paris in the Spring Time by Ella Fitzgerald. Paris between WWII and the modernism of the 1960s must have been an incredible place.

Back to Belmondo and Seberg. Michael is less about being a nihilist or anti-hero and more about projecting bravado after making stupid choices. Intoxicated by his own image, Michael looks like a hollowed-out man trying desperately to survive and hold on to Seberg's Patricia. Patricia, for her part, borders on monstrous in this viewing. Her nonchalance is still rooted in the vagaries of youth but their consequences are so cruel that I wonder what appealed to me in her character.

Perhaps a younger man thinks "It can't happen to me" while an older man thinks "But for the grace of God..." It's like watching a beautiful child pull the wings off butterflies. Seberg toys with Belmondo's affections in a manner that made me wish Michael would have the strength to leave her. However, I knew where the story must end and it felt like watching a car accident in slow motion.

Steve Seid of the PFA mentioned before the screening of Bonjour Tristesse that Godard was inspired to cast Seberg in Breathless after watching her performance in the Preminger film. Patricia is not as conniving as Cecile. Patricia's callousness is derived from an unconscious state of apathy, selfishness and lack of empathy seem to be her primary motivators.

Maybe I'm just getting old. Seberg's appearance in the film is still captivating to me so at least I can still appreciate physical beauty. Seberg was a nouveau femme fatale - just as deadly but muting her sexuality and dooming men with her impassive indecision rather than her manipulations and deceits.

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