Fifty years after first-time director Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” caused a sensation with its American premiere, a brand new restoration is being released to celebrate the anniversary.
The new print from Rialto Pictures is gorgeous, showing Godard’s opus all the respect it deserves. The camera work – his masterful framing, the epic tracking shots that would make Paul Thomas Anderson blush with envy – was revolutionary, as was the liberal use of jump cuts.
"What I wanted to do," Godard said in 1962, "was to depart from the conventional story and remake, but differently, everything that had already been done in the cinema. I also wanted to give the impression of just finding or experiencing the process of cinema for the first time."
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If there’s a weakness to the new print it’s that the subtitles are at times tough to read, their white letters occasionally getting lost on a white background, but it's a minor issue.
Working off an idea from fellow French New Wave auteur Francois Truffaut, Godard’s film follows a small time crook named Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo). After stealing a car, Michel kills the cop who tries to apprehend him and then spends the day working his way across Paris in an attempt to collect a debt and the girl of his dreams, a young American named Patricia (Jean Seberg), in the hopes of convincing her to run off to Rome with him.
Godard dedicated the film to Monogram Pictures, the old Hollywood studio famous for small B movies from the 1930s to 1950s, and much of it is homage to American film gangster Humphrey Bogart.
“(A) witty, romantic, innovative chase picture,” in the words of Pauline Kael, the film made instant icons of both Belmondo and Seberg, and made Godard, a former movie critic, a deservedly world famous director.
“Breathless” opened on Friday in New York and Los Angeles, before heading to other cities.