It was landmark in that it was one of the earliest and brightest lights of La Nouvelle Vague, or French New Wave, cinema. Their style was short, sharp, cheap, real, immediate and purposefully imperfect and Breathless exhibited all that.
I’d like to start with the title. In the English-speaking world we know this film as Breathless, but the original French title is À bout de souffle, better translated as Out of Breath. Bizarrely, the translation on Amazon Instant Video was The End of The Tether, and even Rotten Tomatoes suggest the translated title may be By A Tether.
As to the film itself, it describes the final days of Jean-Paul Belmondo’s wannabe gangster, an amoral young man who barely seems to fit in his clothes and his barely interested girlfriend played by Jean Seberg.
I must admit, I struggled with it. I know, from background reading, how revolutionary it was for its time, and how it dramatically re-shaped French cinema, the action crime story, and shaped the performances of De Niro and Pacino. But whether it was the dissociative effect of the jump cuts invented in this film , or the terribly translated subtitles or the hard-to-like characters, I found myself not enjoying Breathless.
Jean-Pierre Melville, whose own crime movies in the 1950s pointed the way to the New Wave, has a role as an author interviewed by Seberg’s journalist. In my view, he sums up the whole film with its most famous quote: ‘Become immortal, then die’.