Entertainment :: Movies

Breathless

by Jake Mulligan
Contributor
Monday Mar 3, 2014
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There’s a moment in Jeffrey Eugenides’ third novel, "The Marriage Plot," where one character, an overzealous self-important film student, details the youthful need to "kill the father" -- to overcome the influence of, and outclass, the defining artists in one’s field. Another character asks this proto-cinephile -- who’s your father? He shrugs. "Godard."

The statement isn’t wrong-headed. Jean-Luc Godard may well be the father of modern filmmaking -- he’s the innovator behind the jump cut, behind innumerable skewed-genre-pictures, behind the 50-years-young-and-still-influencing-filmmakers "French New Wave" movement. Rewatching "Breathless,", Godard’s first feature, that image of him as the father of filmmaking in the second half of the 20th century, becomes impossible to deny.

Criterion’s latest re-release of the picture -- housing both DVD and Blu-ray editions, "dual format"-style - ports over the wealth of special features previously released on the single-format editions of the film. You’ll spend at least twice as much time digging through these extras as you will watching the film itself: there’s a 10-minute short film directed by Godard prior to "Breathless," a feature-length documentary (made in ’93) that details the making of Godard’s debut via interviews, an illuminating video essay by the invaluable Mark Rappaport detailing female lead Jean Seberg’s career, and another visual essay -- this time by the equally invaluable Jonathan Rosenbaum -- detailing the way that "Breathless" criticizes and re-appropriates standards from the crime-film genre.

Then there’s a large collection of interviews with the cast and crew: first, a half-hour’s worth sourced from early 60s French television, featuring Godard, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Seberg, and filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville. There’s also a far more recent interview, recorded by Criterion a few years ago, with legendary cinematographer Raoul Coutard. Criterion also conducted an interview with documentary filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker, who has worked with Godard, about his personal take on the film.

Literally, "Breathless" is about Jean-Paul Belmondo’s wannabe-Bogart character, a criminal-on-the-run, and the fatalistic romance he has with an American he meets along the way. Yet in truth, the film is something else entirely, something that time and history has refused to forget: an aesthetic manifesto, a lively Parisian romp -- a roadmap that decades of future filmmakers, with their swinging cameras and rapid-cut editing, would mimic directly.

"Breathless"
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack
$39.99
criterion.com

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