Breathless – The Criterion Collection #408 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
February 23, 2014 by Dennis Amith
If you are a Jean-Luc Godard fan or a cineaste, “Breathless” is an important film worth owning in your cinema collection. In the context of importance of cinema and its historical contribution to La Nouvelle Vague, “Breathless” is the feature film that launched Godard’s career and for that, I’m so grateful that The Criterion Collection has given fans a wonderful release. Highly recommended!
© 2007 Pretty Pictures and Vauban Productions. 2014 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Breathless – The Criterion Collection #408
YEAR OF THEATRICAL FILM RELEASE: 1960
DURATION: 87 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Widescreen: 1:33: 1, Black and White, Monaural in French with English Subtitles
COMPANY: The Criterion Collection
RATED: PG (Action, Smoking and Slang Humor)
RELEASE DATE: February 25, 2014
Directed and screenplay by Jean-Luc Godard
Story by Francois Truffaut
Produced by Georges de Beauregard
Music by Martial Solal
Cinematography by Raoul Coutard
Edited by Cecile Decugis, Lila Herman
Jean-Paul Belmondo as Michel Poiccard
Jean Seberg as Patricia Franchini
Daniel Boulanger as Police Inspector Vital
Jean-Pierre Melville as Parvulesco
Henri-Jacques Huet as Antonio Berrutti
Jean-Luc Godard as Informer
There was before Breathless, and there was after Breathless. Jean-Luc Godard burst onto the film scene in 1960 with this jazzy, free-form, and sexy homage to the American film genres that inspired him as a writer for Cahiers du cinéma. With its lack of polish, surplus of attitude, anything-goes crime narrative, and effervescent young stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, Breathless helped launch the French New Wave and ensured that cinema would never be the same.
Every director has their beginning but for Jean-Luc Godard, his 1960 film “À bout de souffle” a.k.a. “Breathless” was the beginning of a cinema revolution and bringing the world closer to nouvelle vague, the French New Wave.
Godard is a unique director who attracted attention for his innovative editing and his use of jump cuts, his style of not giving his talent a script until the morning of and using improvisation and utilizing film techniques that most directors would never do. In fact, his filmmaking even infuriated his producer because instead of using a full day to shoot a film, sometime he was in the mood to do only 12 minutes. But then again, Jean-Luc Godard is not your typical director and in 1960, no one knew what to expect from him.
Many looked at him as a rebel as he wanted to challenge the conventions of traditional Hollywood cinema and for those who watched his films evolve year after year, the more we get to see Godard in his characters but also his political ideologies as well.
But “Breathless” was a film that helped change cinema. For decades, many followed the Hollywood tradition and sure, Jean Renoir did something unique and special decades earlier with “The Rules of the Game” (unfortunately, no one at the time was ready for the film until three decades later and people acknowledge that his film was ahead of its time) but it was “Breathless” that inspired young directors and showed them that directors, auteurs can do something different.
From the use of jump cuts to capturing Paris with a hidden camera, the film and its director was hailed for its innovation and it was the beginning of the French New Wave. Interesting enough, although the film made Jean-Luc Godard a popular name, the director himself was not as thrilled by all the attention and popularity of “Breathless” that led him to create “Le Petit Soldat” (The Little Soldier) which was highly political and banned in France for three years. Regardless of whether or not Godard enjoyed the success of the film, the film was unique and an inspiration to many filmmakers.
For over 40 decades, “Breathless” has been regarded as a film that cinema fans must watch and eventually own and in 2007, The Criterion Collection released “Breathless” in a 2-disc DVD set, followed by a Blu-ray release in 2010. For February 2014, with the Criterion Collection now focused on Blu-ray+DVD combo releases, “Breathless” has received another release.
In “Breathless”, Michel Poiccard (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, “A Woman is a Woman”, “Pierrot le fou”, “Casino Royale”) is a troublemaker who idolizes noir-ish Humphrey Bogart. He steals a car and in the process of running from the police, shoots and kills one of them and now there is a manhunt by the authorities to catch him.
So, Michel decides to go to his American girlfriend Patricia (played by Jean Seberg, “Kill!”, “Lillith”, “The Beautiful Swindlers”), a student studying journalism and works at her job selling New York Herald Tribune newspapers on the streets of Paris. For Michel, he really wants to seduce her and have sex but he grows angry when she spends time with other men.
Michel ends up breaking into her apartment and continues to try and seduce her, while all this time, she has no clue that Michel is a killer and that he is wanted by the police.
“Breathless – The Criterion Collection #408” is presented in black and white, 1080p High Definition (1:33:1). Having watched the original DVD release, grain is present. The contrast and detail for the film compared t to the original DVD is much more evident. Whites and grays are well-contrast, blacks are nice and deep. Before on DVD, certain backgrounds were not as clear but now, the clarity and detail is so much present on this Blu-ray release. Simply, this is the best I have seen of “Breathless”! Is it pristine? You will see some edge enhancement but there is no artifacts or major film damage, this is the best I have seen of this film and Jean-Luc Godard fans should be pleased with this Blu-ray release!
According to the Criterion Collection, the film is “approved by director and photographer Raoul Coutard, this high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine from a 35 mm original fine-grain master positive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Digital Vision’s DVNR was used for small, dirt, grain and noise reduction.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Breathless – The Criterion Collection #408” is presented in French LPCM 1.0. Dialogue for the most part is clear and I detected no major problematic audio issues during my viewing of the film.
According to the Criterion Collection, the original monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm optical track print. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
Subtitles are in English.
“Breathless – The Criterion Collection #408” comes with the following special features:
- Interviews – (27:00) Featuring interviews with director Jean-Luc Godard, actors Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg and filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville, recorded for French television between 1960 and 1964.
- Coutard and Rissient – (22:28) Cinematographer Raoul Coutard (who worked with Godard for 14 films) and cinephile Pierre Rissient, assistant director on “Breathless” recall working with Godard and working on his first film.
- Pennebaker on Breathless – (10:32) Documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker talks about working with Jean-Luc Godard and his film “Breathless”.
- Jean Seberg – (18:54) A video essay written by Mark Rappaport (From the Journals of Jean Seberg) reveals the beginning of Jean Seberg and her life ending in tragedy.
- Breathless as Criticism – (11:09) A video essay written by film historian and author Jonathan Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum explores the cinematic and literary references in “Breathless”.
- Chamber 12, Hotel De Suede – (1:18:26) A 1993 documentary by director and popular French TV host Claude Ventura who tracks down, over nine days, the locations and the people who were involved in the making of “Breathless”. Interviews include actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, filmmaker Claude Chabrol, cinematographer Raoul Coutard, assistant director Pierre Rissient, editor Cecile Decugis and more.
- Charlotte et Son Jules – (12:42) One of the short films from 1959 starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anne Collette. The short film is about a boyfriend who continually admonishes his girlfriend.
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:02) The original theatrical trailer.
“Breathless – The Criterion Collection #408” includes both the Blu-ray and DVD version of a film which comes with a slipcase. Included is an 82-page booklet featuring the essay “Breathless Then and Now” by Dudley Andrew, “Godard in His Own Words” and “Breathless in Progress”.
For anyone interested in French New Wave films, “Breathless” is a film that is recommended watching. It’s a film that changed cinema and launched the career of director Jean-Luc Godard.
What I loved about the film is the acting. The whole 25-minute improvisation scene in the bedroom is incredible. I’ve learned through the special features that the scene involved Godard yelling and instructing the Belmondo and Seberg on what to do and also learned that the jump cut scenes were accidental but yet made the film quite creative, unique and artistic.
But is it one of the best Godard films? This is difficult to answer because personally, there are so many Godard films that I do enjoy but yet this is his first and is an important film in his career. But the problem is, to enjoy Godard films is to know Godard films. You appreciate his films, the more you watch several of them and learn his unique style of filmmaking.
Also, the film has been given so much credit for its innovation that so many people come to the film expecting something like Orson Welles “Citizen Kane” or a film that with this groundbreaking story and people who experience this Godard film are perplexed and don’t understand what the big deal is. And I think that is what has perplexed Godard after the success of the film. Godard was very critical of the film to the point that he distanced himself from it and thus created the film “Le Petit Soldat”.
But as mentioned, to enjoy Godard is to know Godard and that is watching his films and learning about them. Fortunately, The Criterion Collection does a fantastic job with this release of “Breathless” in presentation and also its content. Not only do you get the film but you get to see the various interviews with the talent, interviews with those who worked with him and easily enough, different interpretations of what people got from the film. The 1993 documentary “Chamber 12, Hotel de Suede” is a magnificent addition to the film as we get to see and hear from those who are involved with “Breathless”, giving us some insight to Godard and his unique filmmaking style.
As far as my enjoyment of the film, I absolutely enjoyed it! Godard and Belmondo had a magical partnership during their short time together and as for Jean Seberg, this is an actress that had a bad experience in her earlier years as an actress, given a chance in “Breathless” (and worked once more with Godard) and had a rollercoaster of a career that ended in tragedy. If there was one positive, she is immortalized through her role as Patricia in this film.
“Breathless” is a film about two different people, their words and what they mean are different, they talk about themselves but yet never really talk to each other. Are they even listening to each other? Do they even care for each other?
There’s no doubt that one can rewatch “Breathless” and see something different each time. May it be the two talking about paintings, the two talking about Faulkner, this dialogue between the two is something that I found so enjoyable (as I have with Eric Rohmer’s moral tale “My Night at Maud’s” with also a magnificent, smart and enjoyable long bedroom dialogue scene). There is something about the tone about the film that is just so enchanting.
Despite Michel being the uncaring young bad guy, somehow you can’t help but be intrigued by his character. He’s a dangerous man but yet Patricia is even more dangerous in some ways. Compared to other films showing around the world during its time, “Breathless” was fresh, unique and different from what was seen in traditional cinema.
Cinematography for “Breathless” is absolutely beautiful. Because timing and space was a concern, Godard elected to use a wheelchair to film. Not wanting to use expensive lighting, Godard wanted to capture a realistic feel of these two characters by using natural light. So, many different techniques employed in this film.
In fact, when they were seen in public, cinematographer Coutard was hidden in a cart as the two are seen walking down the street. No one around the two actors are aware that the scene was being filmed. And of course, I go back to the jump scenes and the editing but accidental as it may be, it was definitely a major part in introducing the world to nouvelle vague and changing the scope of cinema.
As mentioned with this Blu-ray release, the detail and clarity is so much better than its DVD counterpart. This is the best I have seen of “Breathless” and in no doubt in my mind, fans will be pleased with this Blu-ray release.
With the release of “Breathless” via Blu-ray and DVD combo-pack, those who owned the previous DVD release and the 2010 Blu-ray release may be wondering if it’s worth getting this version. If you have a Blu-ray player and HDTV, then upgrading to “Breathless” on Blu-ray is indeed worth it!
But with this 2014 Blu-ray release, there is no difference from the 2010 release other than Criterion Collection having released it via a Blu-ray+DVD combo pack. The booklet and special features are the same and there was no major change in overall picture or audio quality.
Overall, if you are a Jean-Luc Godard fan or a cineaste, “Breathless” is an important film worth owning in your cinema collection. Is it Godard’s best film? That’s a matter of preference, as I personally enjoy “Band of Outsiders”, “Pierrot le fou” and “Mascullin Feminin” much more. But in the context of importance of cinema and its historical contribution to La Nouvelle Vague, “Breathless” is the feature film that launched Godard’s career and for that, I’m so grateful that The Criterion Collection has given fans a wonderful release.
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