Breathless, 1960. 8.5/10

French New Wave film with Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. She plays Patricia, an American student journalist, he’s small-time crook turned big-time sociopath, Michel Poiccard/Lazlo Kovacs. The plot is set in motion by Michel stealing a car and shooting the policeman who tries to apprehend him. Other notable characters are police Inspector Vital (Daniel Boulanger), Carl (Roger Hanin), and Antonio Berrutti (Henri-Jacques Huet)..

After the murder, the Inspector comes around a travel office asking about Michel; they have just missed him. Tellingly, Michel stops to look at a Humphrey Bogart poster in a theater window. Emerging later, he karate chops a guy in the restroom.

He and Patricia go walking, then get in his car. Pretty much a nice relationship in progress, as we follow them home. Flirty banter and such.”When you’re scared or surprised there’s a funny glint in your eyes.” Yes, everything she does is notable, beautiful. He looks like a cross between Robert Redford, Peter Fonda, and RFK. He then says she looks like a Martian.

In short, this is as much a romance as a crime drama. Next thing they’re comparing how many lovers they’ve had. Making love itself the topic. “Sweet, gentle Patricia.” Anyway, she says she’s writing a novel, and quotes some Faulkner.

They eventually get dressed and go about their business. We get a brief panorama of the Paris skyline, focusing on the couple in an outdoor cafe. Patricia watches him steal a Thunderbird. They take off; he drops her at the newspaper office where she works.

Big shocker: he’s on the front page as the “police killer.” Then a guy makes him, and goes up to a couple of patrolmen on their beat. Obliviously, Michel and Patricia continue on to the airport where a famous novelist, Parevulesco (Jean-Pierre Melville) has arrived. A lot of Q&A about love and gender roles: not surprisingly, for an old guy, in 1960, he’s not exactly beyond stereotypes.

When Patricia asks what his greatest ambition is, he’s just brilliant: “to become immortal, and then die.” Clearly, he’s a bit peeved, as it’s such an out-of-context question; on the other hand, he’s not necessarily disdaining her either. His answer is funny, and also very philosophical.

Jump now to Michel cruising into a junkyard; here he’s Kovacs. He’s trying to fence the car; there’s a reference to the Oldsmobile involved in the cop shooting. The guy’s onto him–dangerous doing business with Michel’s notorious kind–so Michel won’t get the money right away. Not only that, they disable the car. He’s out both the money and the car.

He grabs a taxi back to the city to meet a guy, Antonio. He’s collected Patricia along the way-which makes it her fault that he just missed the guy. Finally, they split up–she goes back to the office. Oh, man, here’s the inspector to quiz her about Michel. No, she doesn’t know him. Oh, maybe she does. Yeah, in that Thunderbird.

She’s pretty slick–she sorta-kinda knows him. Not out-and-out lies, but certainly very little of the truth, either. They tail her from the office. He’s doing a lame job of hiding out. President Eisenhower’s visiting Paris, as there’s a military parade. She ducks into a theatre, but one cop shadows her, even following her into the bathroom.

Well, she sneaks out of there. Incredibly, though, she and Michel go to another movie. That works out; on the ride home, they learn the dragnet is closing in. At least we discover that she didn’t know that he was a murderer; joy-riding is all she’s in it for.

He’s amazingly resigned to his reality “murderers murder, lovers love.” Very existentialist anyway. Next hijack is a Cadillac convertible. Even the building’s newscrawl is lit up with his name: “Arrest imminent.” He sees a girl he knows… their destination, though is a club where he hopes to track down the elusive Antonio.

Finally, there he is, with that mysterious girl. Apparently, Antonio’s biz is blackmail. They all go inside; Patricia has a good time hanging out, she always does, it seems. What a character–what an actress! Anyway, the two guys arrange to meet up the next day at a safe place.

Patricia and Michel go there that night. It’s a sort of fashion photographer’s studio in an apartment. For once he wants to listen to music. In the morning, she goes out for coffee. What’s this? She’s calling the Inspector. Well, she’s turning him in. Why the heck does she go back there?

Possibly so he won’t suspect that she’s fingered him. Anyway, he’s planning to take her to Italy; Antonio’s coming by…then she has the nerve to tell him what she’s just done. “I don’t want to be in love with you. That’s why I called the police.” Kind of the ultimate cold shoulder; but it makes sense. Once she found out who he really was, she just wanted to cast off from him.

He responds, “they say there’s no happy love.” Yes, but it was great for a while. He’s bitter, but angry with her only in the context of their relationship; he says he won’t try to get away. “I prefer prison.” Nonetheless, he goes out to warn Antoinio , who throws him a pistol as the cops arrive.

All that does is result in the cops mowing him down. She runs up to his dying body; he looks up at her, and playfully mimics her various faces–a game from better times. We study her as she watches him die, and then it’s ‘fin.’

This is a difficult movie to rate: the acting is superb, the setting, of course, lends sophistication that has both a cheerful look and a dangerous edge. The premise is certainly interesting; and both the romance and the crime drama are entirely convincing. So what’s the problem?

Well, the romance sets itself down comfortably in the middle of the movie; diverting the tone from the fast-paced beginning and ending sequences. Since Patricia is no Bonnie to Michel’s Clyde, it’s good to have the romantic interlude. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have much to do.

Seberg’s character is amazing, in that Patricia’s not only a sensuous, pretty woman, but a very strong, independent person. The fact that she’s adventurous enough to go on a series of joyrides shows that she’s making her own rules even though she’s playing the game, and rather adroitly, with her conventional career. She seems innocent, but she’s anything but naive.

Michel, by contrast, is pretty much just an overgrown kid. Hedonistic, egocentric, and immature. He does show that he’s capable of love; he’s really another person with Patricia–witty playful, caring, even charming. That’s why, despite his crimes, he seems somewhat sympathetic compared to his contemporary, the brooding, abusive character played by Peter Finch’s in the contemporary British drama, Look Back In Anger.

If we can take some time to ponder the happier part of Breathless, then we’ve got a highly entertaining, character-driven drama.

8.5 of 10.

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