Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"About A Souffle"

Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless was on TCM last night. It's a movie I never seek out to rewatch but like more every time I see it.

What amazes about it is not what people generally laud about the movie. Michel Poiccard might have been the acme of cool for decades after the movie's release, but he now looks definitively dated. Bogart/Brando-worship may have still been chic in 1960 (or even 1975), but in our day this character just looks like a middle-class kid looking for a way to slum. Perhaps it always did and I'm missing the point. But Americans like Pacino and DeNiro did the anti-hero thing much better, and with far more pathos than this one-dimensional stylistic trick. Perhaps we could see the whole movie as a director's wet dream. Pretending to be the hero of a movie he loves, when he isn't going to bed with a beautiful, intelligent woman.

The filming of course looks as wonderful as the day it was made, but what strikes us now is how traditional it looks: the jump cuts are tame in the age of Soderbergh, the gorgeous black and white photography of the Paris skyline is like so many other movies only more beautiful, and the 'frank' depiction of sex barely registers a blip in an age after the production code.

What amazes today is two things. One is Jean Seberg, still as much of a turnon in 2011 as she was in 1960. Belmondo's Poiccard may have aged badly, but Patricia is more modern than ever - the archetypal hipster American career woman, forty years before such a thing existed. Liberated, looking for exotic experiences, intimidated by nothing and hungry for danger - but only at arm's length. The idea of men still being like they are in this movie is laughable, but if you want to find women like Patricia, go out into the nearest street.

The other thing that amazes is the talk. Not the self-referential talk that only exists remind us that these are characters in a movie - and as the years went by, Godard would put more and more of those into his work. It's a private language that can only exist between two people: you hear it in the way they imply more than they say, the way they allow for comfortable silence (Tarantino knows his Godard), and the way they speak to one another oblivious to what they're doing. The conversation railroads through the sex scenes, and continues in public before and after. The reason Breathless still works, and the reason it's not nearly as great as its lovers allege, is because this is ultimately a movie about the way we talk.

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