Long before Quentin Tarantino and his imitators brought postmodernism to the cineplex, Jean-Luc Godard introduced movie audiences to the features we now associate with independent film: quirky plots, oddball characters, and unconventional technique. And there’s no better place to witness the beginnings of hip postwar cinema than here: the Criterion Collection’s digital remastering of Godard’s first feature, A Bout de Souffle (Breathless, 1960), his simple tale of a bored, thrill-seeking American beauty (played by Jean Seberg) and her French lover, a car thief and cop killer played with amazing insouciance by Jean-Paul Belmondo. Along with Truffaut, Chabrol, and Resnais — all former critics and future members of the New Wave — Godard paid homage to the great American genre films and rejected the stolid style of mainstream, big-budget French movies. In Breathless he follows his young lovers with a hand-held camera through the streets of Paris and elsewhere crams us into a hotel room with them as they flirt, argue, and make faces. Godard’s blend of high and low cultural references — Belmondo mimics Bogart while Seberg quotes Faulkner — would come to define postmodernism, and his moral ambiguities anticipate so much of the easy-riding, raging-bull generation of directors. The DVD extras include rare interview footage from the ’60s and one of Godard’s early shorts; the accompanying booklet collects key texts from his career as a critic. All of which testifies to, among other things, his genius for spontaneity. Godard’s kinetic, jazzy style, with its legendary jump cuts within scenes, derived more from the exigencies of his shoestring budget than from planned technical subversion. The result is liberating — indeed, breathtaking. -
About the Author
Thomas DePietro, a former contributing editor of Kirkus Reviews, has also published in Commonweal, The Nation, and The New York Times Book Review. He recently edited Conversations with Don DeLillo, and his book on Kingsley Amis is forthcoming.