Breathless / À bout de souffle

  • Director: Jean-Luc Godard
  • Released: 1960
  • Writer: François Truffaut
  • Featured Actors: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, Daniel Boulanger

“…he didn’t have enough money in his pocket to buy a metro ticket, he was as destitute as the character he was filming….The miracle of Breathless is that it was made at a time in the life of a man in which he normally would not make a film. One doesn’t make a film when one is sad and destitute.”


The Making

  • The budget was 85,000 dollars

  • Godard’s conception

    • No Tripod

    • No Light (if possible)

    • Travel without rails

    • A need to escape convention & run counter to the rules of cinematographic grammar

  • Used a fast Ilford film stock, not available commercially for motion-picture cameras, so they spliced together still camera film and spliced it together into rolls for their 35mm Cameflex

The Story

  • Overall story structure is chronological

  • Begins as if in mid-scene

  • Beginning & end remain vague

  • Style disrupts rather than clarifies Godard’s story

  • Large scene-to-scene gaps that are mirrored by jump cuts

    • For instance, after Michel shoots the police officer and runs across a field, he is next seen in Paris

    • No attempt is made to explain how much time passed or how he got to Paris or whether the police have discovered the crime yet

  • Godard presents incomplete shards of action

  • He reduces the most significant narrative events

    • Yet, he lavishes screen time and shots on events like watching Patricia brush her hair or seeing Michel walk around in a travel agent office

  • The audience slowly learns about Michel’s past and Patricia’s concerns but does so without the usual flashbacks

The Cinematography & Editing

  • Goal was to capture a rough documentary quality, following the characters as if Coutard (the cinematographer) were a reporter out to get a story

  • Jump Cuts & Discontinuity

    • Images show time is cut out

    • While the dialogue or soundtrack remain constant

    • Sound-space remains constant, while the visual is fragmented

  • Soundtrack is emphasized as an artificial construction

  • Dialogue is exclusively diagetic

The Acting

  • Like the cinematography, Godard’s approach with the actors was similar

  • He showed up with loose notes for the actors who were expected to improvise as the camera shot them from various angles

  • He experimented to capture their loose performances

  • The result would prove stunningly “unprofessional” to some & historically important to others


  • Differences between Michel & Patricia are partly defined by their taste in art

  • He like Bogart and only one Mozart violin concerto

  • She likes Brahms, Renoir paintings and Faulkner

  • They rarely speak about the same things with the same meanings


  • Alternates between two goals

    • Seducing the Patricia

    • Locating the money the money through his friends


  • Michel exploits women, but is suddenly ready to give up money and sure escape for a chance with Patricia who has just betrayed him


  • Struggles to remain independent & pursue her interest in writing

  • It’s unclear why she likes or loves a thug like Michel

  • She becomes a satire of the American college woman abroad who is excited by the exotic and dangerous French man, but pulls back to a safe distance


  • She loves art, but spends time with an uneducated thug

  • She wants to remain independent of men but seems happy to depend upon and please men (and her family) to get by

  • She tells Michel of her pregnancy to see his reaction, but never uses it as a motive for her actions

  • She tells him she loves him, then turns him into the police