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In 1960, Jean-Luc Godard, one of the leading film critics of his generation released his first feature film, Breathless (À bout de souffle) and launched the French New Wave in cinema. It took France, Hollywood, and the world by storm, breaking the rules of filmmaking and opening up new boundaries of exploration on the big screen. With a story by his friend and fellow critic/filmmaker François Truffaut, Breathless was to be Godard’s most straightforward story; a true gangster genre film that pieced together influences from the director’s love affair with American cinema.
Working on a tight budget and without a standard script, Godard infused a sense of energy, improvisation and realism into the film never before seen on the screen. His actors, the little known Jean-Paul Belmondo and the recent Otto Preminger discovery Jean Seberg would take to the lead roles and become icons through their realistic portrayal of character.
The story, as it is, is about a gangster, Michel Poiccard (Belmondo), who has fled the countryside back to the city after killing a man. The city is Paris, where he has returned to try and seduce a seemingly innocent young American beauty (Seberg) and convince her to run away with him. The authorities are in hot pursuit of him, however, and nothing is what it seems in Godard’s reality. Is Michel’s American as innocent as she seems, or is he a tough guy about to get duped?
With shaky cameras, jump cuts, literary and filmic allusions and jazzy momentum, Breathless was like a breath of fresh air. It was the Beat generation folding on itself, exporting itself to France, then returning home to say hello. It alerted Hollywood that films didn’t all have to be canned, planned, plotted, perfect and smooth. Gritty realism, impatient cameras and schizophrenic production could infuse more art into a film than any amount of preparation or money. It may not have changed the world, but it changed cinema forever.
The original cinematographer, Raoul Coutard, oversaw the transfer for this release during an extensive 2K restoration. There were some missing frames that could not be restored using current technology.
The transfer is presented on this StudioCanal Collection Blu-ray release in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio utilizing a 1080p/24 AVC/MPEG-4 encoding. The picture is, once again, top-notch. It looks to my eyes, to be identical to the Criterion Collection release from the US. It’s clean, sharp, detailed, with beautiful, stable blacks, great white levels and a pleasingly natural grain structure intact.
The French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix is not as solidly weighted to the center as Criterion’s true 1.0 PCM track, but it’s still very good. It has all the same qualities,, like clean dialogue, full sounding jazzy music, and a solid midrange.
The supplements on this StudioCanal Collection release of Breathless are a bit weak, especially in comparison to the US Criterion Collection counterpart. There are still some good featurettes here, albeit in standard definition.
The supplements provided with this release are:
- Film Presentation by Colin Maccabe (SD)
- Room 12, Hôtel de Suède (SD)
- Jean-Luc According to Luc (SD)
- Photo Gallery
- Godard, Made in USA (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:50.17; New)
- Booklet: Essay by Yves Alion, journalist from L’avant scène cinema.
The Definitive Word
See Jean-Luc Godard’s first and, some might argue, greatest masterpiece in an excellent high definition release overseen by his cinematographer, Raoul Coutard; you owe it to yourself.