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Film Analysis: Breathless

Breathless (1960)

Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard

Michel Poiccard- Jean-Paul Belmondo

Patricia Franchini- Jean Seberg

Breathless is a product of the The French New Wave that emerged in 1959 and expanded through the 1960s. Turmoiled by politics and economics, Breathless is a low-budget black and white film, with a loose and lyrical style. It blurs the line between reality and fiction with a shift of the traditional narrative conventions. Breathless is shot with natural lighting and wheelchair dollies. There are also a couple of instances when the characters (Michel- when he looks into the mirror and Patricia- the closing scene, CU) direct address the camera, meaning they look right into the lens, a very unconventional technique. This awakens the audience, reminding them they’re watching a fictitious narrative. I’m not too sure if the entire film was post-synchronized with sound but there were several scenes in which it sounded like direct sound. For instance, when Michel and Patricia are sitting on her bed having a conversation, you can hear an emergency vehicle (probably an ambulance) passing in the street and the volume of its sirens increases as it gets closer drowning out Michel’s voice. There is also a lot of static and background noise which imply live sound recording.

Breathless is about a French adolescent car thief named Michel, who ends up killing a policeman and tries to persuade his lover/girlfriend Patricia to flee with him to Rome. Reluctant to go with him, he confesses his crime and decides to go with him but eventually betrays him in the end. Michel is extremely possessive and selfish and makes everything, especially their conversations, revolve around him and his needs. Almost all their conversations are sexually explicit and consists of Michel trying to get to Patricia to sleep with him AGAIN. The sequence I have analyzed is that of Patricia’s return home the next day from a lunch date she had the day before. Confused to find her key missing from her mailbox, the lobby clerk suggests that she probably left it in her door keyhole. To her surprise she finds Michel laid up under the covers.

Patricia is immediately annoyed to find Michel in her apartment and unable to have alone time (which she verbally expresses to Michel). She walks into the bathroom, only to have Michel following pursuit. He calls her “sour apples” while she is brushing her hair in the mirror and he stands in the doorway. He shows her the three comical facial expressions associated with the phrase sour apples and she mimics him, which can be seen in the image below. His stance in the doorway reaffirms his masculinity and role as a protector. His insult is taken lightly by Patricia which she says “suits her well”.

The next scene is when Patricia tries to make it clear to Michel to leave her alone but he completely ignores her request and questions her anyways. They’re both sitting next to each other on the bed facing the window (their backs to the camera). Patricia’s body language is that of head down, hands in-between legs, sitting straightforward while Michel’s sitting at a slant towards her, right hand on her left leg staring directly at Patricia. His body language in this scene is an indication of his concern for her.

Michel then gets back under the covers while Patricia is sitting facing him holding a teddy bear. Here Patricia is portrayed as a little girl, emphasizing their youth. Michel is extremely possessive and selfish. They have a hybrid relationship of father/daughter and boyfriend/girlfriend and/or friends with benefits. He questions her if she has slept with that guy she went on the lunch date with. Astoundingly she answers the question simply and nonchalantly with a “No Michel”.

Still motivated to sleep with her Michel tells Patricia anything she wants to hear which includes him wanting to sleep with her again because he “loves” her. Patricia is not at all moved or excited by his confession. She is in fact uncertain about her own feelings toward him. Dissatisfied with her response, Michel sits up from under the sheets and picks up a visually explicit women’s magazine and pressures Patricia by asking her when she’s going  to know she’s ready.

Patricia then brings up the notorious tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and idolizes over it, telling Michel she wants them to be just like them “unable to live without each other”.  He then tells her what she wants to hear, that he can’t live without her. They then play a game where Michel grasps his hands around Patricia’s neck (as if to choke her) so that she smiles before he is able to count to eight. She smiles after he calls her chicken then tells him she doesn’t want to play anymore. As she walks over him on the bed,  he lifts up the back of her skirt and she abruptly turns around and smacks him. Here she gains back her independence and authoritativeness, letting him know he is not in charge and that whatever he has said has not gone to her head whatsoever.

Patricia then goes over to the chair in front of the window to light a cigarette but since she is unable to light it on the first try, Michel calls her afraid. Unsure of what he’s talking about she continues till the cigarette is let, rejecting Michel’s provocation. She offers him a cigarette and he refuses because its not the brand he smokes and prompts her to get his jacket with his cigarettes inside. Patricia boldly reaches into his jacket pocket but he insists she hand him the jacket, implying his secrecy and doesn’t want her meddling through his stuff. Confused once again, she throws it lightly causing his passport to fall out. She picks it up asking if its his, which he denies because of the last name difference. After a sharp explanation he then grabs the passport from her and puts it back into his jacket pocket.

Patricia and Michel’s relationship is very immature because she suddenly tells him she isn’t talking to him anymore and two seconds later she turns back to him and asks him to tell her something nice. She plays hard to get. They play a staring game in which they gaze into each other’s eyes. They then kiss in the bathroom doorway, where she decides to hang her painting poster. As her back is turned and she is hanging the poster, Michel caresses her booty without any repercussion. As they discuss the painting Michel brings up his desire to sleep with her again. While Michel is standing in front of the basin (sink) washing his face/neck, Patricia is sitting cleaning her feet in another sink or tub and then confesses that she is pregnant and watches Michel for a reaction.

He asks if its his and if she’s been to the doctor. She tells him she “thinks so”. This response is another implication of their nonexclusive relationship, as if she has a number of partners.  He then tells her she should’ve been more careful in a stern voice then storms out the bathroom. She is left with a look on her face with one of sadness and confusion.

These last two images I incorporated are probably a couple of the most famous shots of Patricia and Michel. She rolls up a poster and looks at Michel through it with one eye. He then stares back with a modest almost charming expression. Its one of trust as well as uncertainty and mystery. Even though it meant to seem as if Michel is staring straight at the camera he is actually direct addressing the camera because he is making eye contact with the audience, as if to gain our trust also.

One of the major reasons why I chose this film to write about is because I speak French so I found most of the implicated dialogue to be very humorous because it often isn’t the same once its subtitled. The style of this film is very loose and improvised but works in its favor. I also feel the right characters were chosen for this film which made it an overall phenomenon.

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  1. Hi Dear, are you in fact visiting this web page regularly, if so after that
    you will without doubt take pleasant experience.

    Monday, July 7, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
  2.   Famous Jackets wrote:

    i can’t see that movie till now.but now i wanna watch this because its a love story.

    Sunday, August 31, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

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