Everything you need to know about Breathless, a film from 1960 by Jean-Luc Godard, you can learn in the first six minutes. Godard lets you know, from the very first line – “After all, I’m an asshole” – that he is not too concerned with your opinions. Straight out of the gate, Godard hot-wires French cinema, realizes that the vehicle is a loaded weapon, and shoots down the authority. In six minutes you are basically told that there are new sheriffs in town and they are playing for keeps.
It actually took me two viewings to catch that. Going in I knew that Breathless was one of the most popular films of the French New Wave but I am far from an expert in being able to explain why that is so. What I can say is that while watching it the first time, I did not really see from what angle the attention was coming. I have watched better films, but wasn’t alive to really see what cinema was before and how it was changed after, without the change being washed out by fifty years of studio movies.
There is an interesting video essay about Godard and Breathless in the Criterion Blu-ray that explains how, before Breathless, Godard was a critic and everything that he made was continued criticism, just presented in a different format. From this I see two clear storytelling lessons.
The first is to make the story that you want to make, and say what you want to say. Regardless of the status of your industry, or the status of the community, this is your story to do with as you please. The second, which I feel is more important, is no matter what the story is, make it personal. Make it matter. Anybody can write a book or make a movie, but the ones that truly hit home are the ones that make you shake your fist back at them for pointing out something very obvious that you had never noticed. There is a lot to be learned from Breathless; someday I might find it all, but I am in no hurry.
As mentioned, I watched the Criterion Collection Blu-ray and, as always, the transfer was very impressive.