Visual Analysis of Breathless (Godard)

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  • Topic: French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard, Breathless
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BREATHLESS
by Jean-Luc Godard

Aesthetics and Visual Analysis Paolo Favero Tim Somers s0111755 Film Studies & Visual Culture

BREATHLESS
by Jean-Luc Godard
A visual analysis by Tim Somers Aesthetics and Visual Analysis Fall term 2012 "Ne va pas montrer tous les côtés des choses, garde-toi une marge d'indéfini." Jean-Luc GODARD

Introduction
It isn't hard to see why Breathless (original title: À Bout de Souffle) manages to distinguish itself from general film, being now or at the time it came out. Despite being the first film by influential French director Jean-Luc Godard, its visual style and unconventional approach has led to the film being labeled as historically significant and brought international acclaim to the French New Wave movement. It is considered a piece of “breakthrough” cinema, a film that immediately stunned the audience in 1960 and continues to do so with modern audiences. Jean-Luc Godard is said to be the most extreme and paradoxical figure in the New Wave movement he co-created, which resulted in this extraordinary piece of cinema. Filming on location in Paris in August and September of 1959, Godard managed to visualize a script written by François Truffaut with cinematographic techniques rarely been used before and a directorial approach involving elements of naturalism and leaving room for improvisation. This resulted in a very unconventional film - hard on the eye but nevertheless touching and provoking. Godard chose to film in a style reminiscent to Paris in the 1950s. This resulted in the use of black and white, very lush but also highly contrasting from time to time. On this, French documentary filmmaker Claude Ventura is quoted saying "In black and white, Paris still looks like it did in Breathless (or New Wave film in general)". Cinematographer on Breathless, Raoul Coutard, captures Paris with a precision as seen in documentary films and therefore adds to the nostalgic feel Godard aimed for. He wanted Coutard to shoot Breathless as if it was a reportage, a style Coutard was highly familiar with. This use of techniques and these references to documentary film making draw back to the influence of Italian neo-realism on the New Wave movement. The film stars Jean-Paul Belmondo - at the time an actor who only enjoyed recognition in France - alongside Jean Seberg. selected by Godard for giving the film some commercial appeal.

Breathless

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Acting happened in a very natural way. Godard had a story in mind - the one he wrote alongside François Truffaut - but barely any dialogue had been made. Raoul Coutard notes that during filming Godard wrote down lines on the spot he then rehearsed with his actors once or twice before the scene was shot. This use of improvisation gave the film a highly spontaneous feel.

Seberg & Belmondo as seen in Breathless

Analysis
Right from the beginning Breathless introduces us to a new way of visuality and cinematography. Jean-Luc Godard continues to reinvent cinematic approaches, the most blatant being the use of the jump cut. They are used only as a cinematic construction, they don’t support neither story or dialogue. Therefore at first they seem to work against the scene they exist in. It seems that Breathless constantly tries to unnerve and disorientate its audience. Godard uses great differences in scale to destabilize the viewer. Extreme close-up shots are immediately followed by long shots. Actions are often filmed when the act is already taking place. This all may seem like cinematic hyperactivity and at first very difficult to understand. Therefore Godard balances this with a very static approach for the remainder of the film. Scenes and sequences often take place in one space with the two main characters. Despite the use of jump cuts from time to time it provides the setting with a kind of steadiness only disturbed by the free-flowing sharp dialogue between Belmondo and Seberg. Highly contrasting with the jump cuts and the scale disorientations is the use of...
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