Converted by "Breathless"

Jake Martin, SJ, a Jesuit scholastic and frequent contributor to our pages (and our webpages) had a horror of what the French call les cinéastes, those très serieux scholars of film who wax poetic about Godard, Rohmer, Resnais, Truffaut, et al.  But the recently remastered version of Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" has converted Martin to La Nouvelle Vague, and, well, I'll let him tell it in his latest online Culture piece...

"The marvelous jump cuts, the seemingly endless tracking shots, the camera’s radical gaze …” This is usually the point in any conversation about film where my eyelids grow heavy, my nails dig into my palms and I begin thinking about all of the e-mails I have yet to respond to, anything to raise my heart rate to a level that will keep me conscious. Serious film chat? No thanks, I’ll bring a book. 

Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” is almost always bandied about in such conversations. “It’s one of the films that all true cinemaphiles must see, don’t you know?” This is the reason I have avoided it; I have discovered that sometimes those landmark films that “have changed the face of cinema,” (“Citizen Kane” I’m talking about you) don’t necessarily stand the test of time. Yes, I can see the technical brilliance. Yes, I can see the innovation. Yes, I can see why this film is held in such high esteem. And no, I do not want to sit through this relic of another time.  


I avoided “Breathless” because I already knew too much about it. It’s all in the stills: Jean-Paul Belmondo rubs his lips; Jean Seberg looks gorgeous in black shades and a pixie haircut; and together they walk along the Champs-Élysées. I knew “Breathless” the way people know so many historical moments, not as something immediate and life altering, but as sedimentary images, things that once meant something but have now been diffused of all relevance.

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, a newly remastered print of “Breathless” has been released at select locations. One of those select locations was five minutes from where I live, so I broke down and saw it. And then I saw it again. Maybe as you already know, it’s that good.

Read la reste here.

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