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A Bout de Souffle: No one is immune to the sexy allure of submissive American expats

July 9, 2010

I went and saw Breathless at the Film Forum on Wednesday with my pal Katherine, knowing next to nothing about it except that it was Godard’s debut feature, that it started the French New Wave of cinemaaah, and that Jean Seberg has really, really cute hair:

(Seriously. How cute is this hair? I have the Poor Fat Person’s version of this haircut right now, and I’m not ashamed to say that when I was bored while watching the movie-which was frequently-I would try and figure out how she got it to look like that. Combined with my acquisition lust for every item of clothing she wore in the entire film I think that it is safe to say, in the end, that I’d really rather I looked like Jean Seberg.)

The “plot” in a nutshell: Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo, whose abs of glory half-concealed by giant waist-high boxers were the most exciting thing about the extended bed chatter scene, but I digress) steals a car, kills a motorcycle cop, goes to Paris where he reconnects with his sweetie, American expat journalist/newspaper vendor Patricia (Seberg), they loll about on a bed talking about Art and Literature and Music, they have sex, she tells him she’s pregnant and that the baby is HIS oh noes, and then he gets caught and shot by the cops. FIN. (Literally, FIN, which maybe I have seen parodied on
Clone High too often to take seriously.*)If I had seen Breathless when I was younger, I would probably have responded to it really strongly and positively. I would have coveted not just Jean Seberg’s terminally cute hair and adorable minimalist wardrobe but her very existence: her tiny flat in Paris, her fraught relationship with the sketchy Michel, her ennui about her life and her inability to give a serious think to anything, really. Maybe I’ve officially joined the rank of The Olds, but when she sighs “Michel, I’m pregnant” in the same tone she uses to declare that she’s bored or annoyed I just want to grab her by the shoulders and shake her for being an idiotic cliche. Watching Patricia follow Michel around at 24 doesn’t feel like I’m watching the ebullient spirit of the New Wave or whatever AO Scott would have me believe. I am not turned on by Michel’s hipster insouciance and faux-Bogart posturing. I am infuriated that after Michel shrugs off shooting a cop to death with a gun she’s basically like “Sigh. Shall we steal a Cadillac?” as though it’s a game that isn’t particularly fun, but she’s going along with it anyway because to put up a real resistance to it would be too difficult.

What Breathless reminds me most of on further reflection is Lost in Translation. I saw Lost in Translation when it came out and thought it was the absolute shit. Charlotte (ScarJo, who is super pretty and who I loved in Iron Man 2) also didn’t know what she wanted, and felt out of place, and resented her husband for dragging her around Japan when she didn’t want to, and also judged the vapid ignorance of the movie stars her husband hobnobs with. As a judgey, indecisive person myself, I could and do still to a certain extent relate to this kind of hipster posturing, one of my very, very worst traits. “Evelyn Waugh was a man” etc. At seventeen I thought that Lost in Translation perfectly captured some kind of phantom rootless feeling felt by all expats, and that her rootlessness was glamorous.

This comparison isn’t quite cohering the way I want it to. The parallel I am trying ham-handedly to draw is between Patricia’s desires to just be able to think about something and her lack of resistance to Michel and Charlotte’s half-silent, semi-dazed wanderings through Japan. The desire to connect with anyone when you’re abroad and don’t know anyone and sometimes you just kind of graft yourself onto the first person who understands you, man, and that shit doesn’t always work out well. Michel seemed quite predatory to me, and I think that’s why I didn’t respond to him as a kind of lost soul the way some reviewers seem to. Beyond than the obvious stealing, cheating, and FUCKING MURDERING he also badgers Patricia. He doesn’t leave her alone when she asks him to. He steals a key and stays in her room without her permission. I’m sitting there, feeling intensely, intensely bothered by all this watching the movie- like, is nobody going to call out Michel for being an enormous, predatory douche?

In his article about this 50th anniversary print of Breathless (which, to be fair, was a great print, and the translation I am told is much improved) A.O. Scott uses words like “heady,” “historical significance,” “entirely original,” and then rolls out this peach of a paragraph:

It still, that is, has the power to defy conventional expectations about what a movie should be while providing an utterly captivating moviegoing experience. A coherent plot, strong and credible emotions and motivations, convincing performances, visual continuity — all of these things are missing from “Breathless,” disregarded with a cavalier insouciance that feels like liberation. It turns out that a movie — this movie, anyway — doesn’t need any of those things, and that they might get in the way of other, more immediate pleasures.

Other, more immediate pleasures are what are going to strand Patricia in Paris knocked up by a dead cop-murderer with no money, guys. Beyond my rather Puritan moralizing about this movie-which, I admit, is very pearl-clutching, Nancy Reaganesque, I know, I know, Jesus- things like “coherent plot, strong and credible emotions and motivations, convincing performances, and visual continuity” are all things that I highly value in a moviegoing experience. I don’t think that by throwing all that shit to the wind you get a good movie. Instead, you get Breathless, a visually intriguing puff pastry. A.O. Scott says it is a movie that feels “cool.” Cool to me is some soulless bullshit. Lost in Translation is “cool” and ultimately it’s an empty movie. I felt the exact same way about Breathless.

Who loves ya, Baby? I kind of might but I kind of might not. Don’t my shades look cool?

* Whisper. WHIIIISPER. WHISPER!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2010 3:21 pm

    can I just tell you how much I love you and generally agree with you about everything? and wonder why I did not know about your fabulous blog?

  2. July 10, 2010 8:20 pm

    @boner_killer: you rule.

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  1. Watching Breathless, Now Instead of Earlier « For Cinephiles by a Cinefille

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