Watching Breathless, Now Instead of Earlier

Last night I revealed something on Twitter, the site for some of my darkest revelations these days, that I have never publicly admitted.

You might be curious: How did I go through four years of film classes and never see Breathless until after I graduated? (Or maybe I am wondering this about myself and I am just subjecting you to my justification of this fact.)

I have endlessly studied Godard and the French New Wave. No one who enters into any acceptable film program can avoid these movies. Breathless was just never assigned viewing. Instead other French New Wave films – Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7, Godard’s Vivre sa Vie, Truffaut’s The 400 Blows – were. As things happen when you are in college, some movies just take precedence and others slip past your radar until you finally are presented with the opportunity to watch it. That is how I happened to finally watch Breathless years after I should have.

I knew what to expect from Breathless having seen segments in several classes. In many ways, I also knew what I was supposed to think. That is the effect of a film degree. There are certain films and movements, such as the French New Wave and Italian Neorealism, that you study and are just expected to regurgitate why they are significant. These two films movements, after all, are arguably the two most influential movements in world cinema and if you don’t know about them, then you don’t know about the cinema.

A friend wisely pointed out that I have been a bit brainwashed by academia. This friend (hi Jen!) also has some pointed opinions on Breathless. She had, in some ways, the ideal situation of seeing Breathless (the new print no less!) with a limited prior knowledge about Godard’s film. I had the exact opposite experience.

Now that I have seen Breathless in its entirety and adored it, I wonder what is the ideal way to Breathless? A limited knowledge of the film, theoretically, allows you to critique it from a fresh perspective. Or, as I saw it, knowing everything there is to know, having read all the theory and having seen it in bits and pieces, here and there. Here’s the thing. I hardly see myself as brainwashed by academia. I just know a lot about the history of certain movements, which only enhances how I read films.

As you have gathered by now this isn’t any sort of review of Breathless. There is no way I can really break down Breathless after just one viewing.

Instead I’ll just leave you with this comment from Scott’s examination of Breathless from May: “Breathless is a pop artifact and a daring work of art, made at a time when the two possibilities existed in a state of almost perfect convergence. That is the source of its uniqueness. Much as it may have influenced what was to come later, there is still nothing else quite like it.”

What are your thoughts on Breathless? Sound off below.

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