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Film Club: Breathless

Tuesday 22 May 2012, 14:29

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

Today is the first of my introductions in the new Kermode Uncut Film Club.

The film is Breathless from 1983 - get yourself a copy of the movie, watch the intro and let me know what you think.

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    Comment number 41.


    Yeah, I actually enjoy a lot of Godard's stuff, despite not really caring for his Breathless. I would actually argue that most of Godard's work is highly watchable, if not always really deep or meaningful. Seems like a whole lot of people are completely writing off his work.

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    Comment number 42.

    I saw Breathless years ago but couldn't really remember what it was all about.

    Having seen it again I have to say that I HATED this film.


    The most annoying thing about the film is Richard Gere. This must be one of the most undisciplined and narcisstic performances ever put on to celluloid. Since he played such a cretin in the film, I couldn't care less about whether he got shot at the end of the film or was sent into exile on a planet for other immature buffoons!!

    I'm not sure if Valerie Kapriski should be checked for woodworm after her performance in the film. She looked beautiful at the time but it counts for nothing if you can't act.

    As for comparing the film to what Quentin Tarantino has written, I completely disagree. Tarantino may be obsessed with comics and pop culture but he knows how to tell a good story.

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    Comment number 43.

    I dunno man. "Wait my taco!" was as good an improvisation as I've seen.

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    Comment number 44.

    Now that we have all watched and disagreed on a divisive film from 1983, might I point out that Kermode Uncut Film Club is practically obliged (perhaps morally) to take in a divisive film from 1984 next.

    Dune. Dune next. Let's get to the bottom of the long running critical riddle of whether Dune is better than Breathless.


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    Comment number 45.

    I first saw the poster for the film outside a video shop when I was about 7 & thought the tagline was cool. I forgot all about it then about '89 it was on ITV or something & I watched it all & loved it. Don't understand people thinking Gere was a bad actor, although Richard Burton said 'you cannot over-act' I probably view acting differently because of this. Many scenes stand out, but my personal favourite is the bit were he is watching the news & she is in the shower & he starts singing 'Suspicious Minds' very, very cool. Definately in my top 10.

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    Comment number 46.

    Like bobshark, the Suspicious Minds scene was great and the overall movie was great also, kinda reminded me of an less serious 1980's version of 'Drive' with the cars, LA as a character, the jacket, the girl, the dominant soundtrack. Thought Kapriskys acting left her down at times and Gere was a little strong. Really enjoyed it though ☺

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    Comment number 47.

    I saw "Breathless" the first time when I was about 10, on TV and I only had a faint recollection of it being a pretty silly movie, although I must admit the scenes in which Richard Gere sings and/or dances to various songs have an unexpected staying power.

    I saw the movie again last night (some 15 years later) and although it didn't seem as silly now as it did then, I didn't enjoyed it very much. It was only in the last half hour that I felt the movie really took off and we caught glimpses of McBride's talent (for example, the way the finale is timed is amazing). For the most of it, however, "Breathless" is a predictable, talky film, a campy over-the-top story told in a pretty conventional, "straight" manner.

    And as for comparing it to the original: "A bout de souffle" is nowhere near Godard's best work, but it was (almost by accident) a groundbreaking moment in cinema. It challenged classical storytelling and cinematic form in a way few movies have done. It may not be the most enjoyable movie ever made, but out of the two movies we talked about here, it certainly is the most rewarding.

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    Comment number 48.

    I find it interesting this American remake of the critically acclaimed French New Wave film is first, as Mark recently outright dismissed the existence of the remakes of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Let Me In for pulling the same tricks this does.

    Breathless is a fairly dull film, too reliant on the events of the superior original; showing none of the experimental flair of Godard when it does go into new territory. They (rightfully) try to replace Godard's intellectual arrogance with copy and paste metaphors, but a long conversation about Silver Surfer's plight matching the main character's, and a plastic heart literally breaking in half are possibly the most clunky moments ever put to film.

    Richard Gere is the antithesis of Jean-Paul Belmondo - a proto-Nicolas Cage (not just in accent) whose regret of killing a policeman and his subsequent actions suggest a lack of control over his immaturity. Gere is more likeable than the cold, indifference of Belmondo, but he plays the role almost too well because he becomes intolerable to watch as the film progresses. His cause is not helped by Valerie Kaprisky's Monica; her character having more gaps than her sentence structures as she is constantly reined in to match the characterisation of A bout de soufflé's Patricia.

    The couple's time together is meandering at best. A copy and paste reference to a William Faulkner novel is the only memorable exchange between the two, again through its sheer clunkiness. Shame 75% of the film consisted just of them together.

    The ending, while beautifully directed, is a cop out. Courtesy of translating to an American audience that supposedly despises leaving the cinema unhappy, Gere is placed in a position of martyrdom instead of receiving his comeuppance. Because he loves a girl, who is running towards him at the time, he gets the defiant "love conquers all" ending. Awwww, everyone goes home happy, etcetera.

    So to recap: I did not like this.

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    Comment number 49.

    Wow! So many good comments from people already, lots of points that I would make myself, so sorry if I'm repeating anything.

    Well, one can see why you love it Dr K, we all know about your man crush on Gere and your love of rock'n roll, The King, old cars and those trousers!

    Despite Gere's irritating portrayal of Jesse and my better judgement I found myself getting caught up in this story of these mismatched lovers, especially in chase scene where they run and run and run. Yes Jesse is an annoying bafoon, but he's a flippin' sexy annoying bafoon and he knows it! It's the classic bad boy gets the good girl story. Jesse is the silver surfer. When the boy at the news stand calls the surfer a jerk, he's calling Jesse a jerk, later reiterated by Monica too, the symbolism is hardly subtle. The surfer loves earth  and stays even though he should leave. Jesse loves Monica, he stays in LA for love at the risk of his own life.

    The shots are stylish and run the gamit from close-ups in the style of pure comicbook panels (echoing their garish colours) to wide shots of LA with its unusual mish mosh of architectural styles (what's the deal with the house that looks like a tacky ice palace?). One shot that stood out for me was the crane shot as Gere runs from the car scrapyard, really lovely. 
    The comic book style is not just reserved for the look of the movie, the dialogue is overblown with an unrealistic tone. Jesse never seems to be a real person, instead channeling his rock'n roll hero Jerry Lee Lewis or spouting Silver Surfer quotes. The one moment when he is truly himself is behind the screen in the movie theatre when he makes love to Monica. The romantic music from the movie theatre swells and in turn becomes the soundtrack to their own love scene. We see why he is desperate to hang on to her. It's the one moment in the whole movie when he is good and true and real.

    It must be noted that this is an important movie in terms of its clear influence on the highly regarded and  critically acclaimed Quentin Tarantino. He has stated (like you Dr K) that he prefers this version over Godard's A Bout de Souffle and it's influence is clear, from its pop culture references to it's use of music.

    It has definite problems, one feels little sympathy for Jesse, even though the shooting of the cop is accidental he shows little remorse and, lets face it, he's a bit of a prat. You never really get any kind of sense of who he is or just what exactly he does. Kaprisky's acting leaves a lot to be desired but her sheer beauty makes up for some of it, the camera loves her. The lack of strong narrative is problematic but the style just about saves the movie regardless of this. Not one I will be rushing out to buy but still an ok watch mainly due to Dr K's intro.
    I look forward to the next movie.

    PS I saw the ending as more retribution than love conquers all.

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    Comment number 50.

    Hi Mark,i picked up a dvd copy of Breathless this week and watched it earlier this evening.The last time i viewed this movie must of been about eighteen years ago.Despite being a big fan of the original i still enjoyed watching the Jim McBride version.It's a great slice of hyper active bubble gum pop culture fun,if viewers approach it with a critical viewpoint in mind or compare it to the original then i think they may be annoyed by it.The tone of the film is all over the place but i think that makes the film interesting and entertaining.When Jesse finishes his discussion with the kid about the Silver Surfer you half expect him to break into a song as he's walking away,and it wouldn't of mattered,it's the type of film that you could get away with something like that.
    Overall i'm glad i watched the film and i will watch it again sometime,maybe as the support movie on a double bill with Wild At Heart.

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    Comment number 51.

    So I took up the challenge from Dr KErmode and went to my usual Video Store to pick up Breathless. I first checked the customer computer which said they had a copy in the Drama section. I could not find it so asked at the counter where the staff computer said it was in Action-Drama. So I rented it for $1.00 and came home and watched it.
    I had first seen it in the mid 80's on television but remembered very little on the other hand I saw the French original a couple of years ago and did not like it at all.
    I found the film to be a real mess and not a good mess. I did not like or enjoy any of the characters and neither story, performances or dialogue did anything for me. The visual choices and locations were probably the best part of the film but I can safely say I will not be watching this again.
    Hopefully next film for the Film club will be better for me. I am hoping you pick Michael Manns underrated and under seen 'Thief'.

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    Comment number 52.

    odd that for the past 18 months Mark has done nothing but moan about American re-makes of foreign films and ordered us only to watch the originals yet for the first film club film he wants us to watch an american re-make of a foreign film.

    Rightio Marky Mark.

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    Comment number 53.

    I find Jim McBride's version to be a dumb American version of a truly inventive self-conscious film. While Godard's film makes you think about cinema and the consumption of American popular culture in a new way, McBride's film simply presents an unironic celebration of the stupid, apathetic, and facile. You're right to say that McBride's Breathless anticipates Quentin Tarantino, but why is that such a good thing? From Godard to McBride to Tarantino represents a downwards trajectory. Godard's Breathless is a difficult film and a thoughtful commentary on what was, at the time, a visually and politically sophisticated popular American style (the classic noir cycle, 1941-1958). McBride and Tarantino, however, push into the realm of pastiche - 'Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language. But it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody's ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter'.

    While we're on this subject, I find dismaying the trend for releasing great cult films in DVDs that say 'The film that inspired Quentin Tarantino', as if Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Branded to Kill (1967), Le Samourai (1967), The Long Goodbye (1973), etc, are only valuable for inspiring hack cover versions of exploitation movies.

    For the next Film Club, may I suggest Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. (1950)? It is readily available and would be a timely choice given the success of The Artist.

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    Comment number 54.

    Like the film club idea, miss the days of Moviedrome and film seasons that would have introductions on tv. Had never seen Breathless before, just watched it and thought it enjoyable but not a masterpiece. Excellent locations and soundtrack, thought Gere was good in the role. Found it a bit slow paced after the first half hour hour so, very good ending.

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    Comment number 55.

    It's certainly good fun. Has some unusual trousers. I don't think it's as cool as the original and Kaprisky looks a little lost - but then she did work with Zulawski and La femme publique is definitely worth a look, must have been quite an experience from which few would recover. Gere is good, perhaps often underrrated. Whatever happened to the director?

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    Comment number 56.

    Having never seen A Bout de Souffle I can't draw any kind of worthwhile comparison, however Breathless certainly entertained me, more often than not as a result of Gere's choice in trousers. Handsome sod gets away with it, too...

    It's not going to reach my favourites list, but I am glad I took time out to watch it. As for Dr K's love of this movie, I can't help but feel the inclusion of Dexy's Midnight Runners on the soundtrack has more than a little influence...

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    Comment number 57.

    Decent enough. 6/10. Great soundtrack and use of locations. Shirt and trousers OTT but goes with Gere's performance. Never saw the original. Silver Surfer and a hot french chick? Odd but sort of works.

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    Comment number 58.

    I saw the original when it was released and refused to see this remake. So I owe you a huge thank you, Mark. It was fabulous.

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    Comment number 59.

    Err, *puts up hand*. How can this 'film club' work? When people walk into a cinema, they see the same film at the same time. But here, people will see the film at different times, and risk issuing spoilers for those who, for whatever reason, haven't seen it yet.

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    Comment number 60.

    Good evening Mark and Film Club,

    First off what film should we track down for next week?

    I thought "Breathless" was pretty slow until half way through then it got better.

    I enjoyed Jesse Lujack played by Richard Gere because even though he seems narcissistic and living in his own fantasy world, I find myself liking him for those reasons. He's being true to himself through his love of the Silver Surfer and 50s rock n roll which he feels an affinity with.

    In a non-narcissistic way I felt I could relate to it - being a 27 year old Scotsman who loves disco music above just about all else (mainly New York disco a la the sound from indie labels like Salsoul, Prelude, West End to name a few), I can see that the world around him has moved on to more modern music but he hasn't because to him, there is no better form of music and its part of his identity (as I think disco is to mine).

    He doesn't take himself too seriously, but why should we? Its really his world we're looking into and how he sees it. We don't know how old Jesse is, but to himself he's like a 50s teenager living for the moment. It's only when things happen later on that he starts to consider other people than himself for the future (I'm not going to spoil it).

    Maybe he sees the Silver Surfer as a role model, not just because he's a super hero but due to the feeling of unrequited love he has - to an extent, Jesse can sympathise with that as we see early on in the film he claims to love Monica and want her bad.

    The theme of Jesse being in his own world is continued when he and Monica go to Errol Flynn's estate. To the audience its pretty much looks like a dive, but for all we know Jesse choose to go there, as part of his fantasy ethos - Errol Flynn being a major box office draw back in the 50s.

    I felt the ending to this film, way way WAY better than the original. I think the original takes itself too seriously but this - its more fun, enjoyable, you can analyse it like so many have done on this blog or just switch off and enjoy.

    Looking forward to the next choice - good one to start off with :)

    @discocampbell on Twitter


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