A Bout de Souffle I Want to Be Immortal, and Then Die
In Breathless the story is told through random events and references.
It could be described as a story about nothing, with no beginning and no end, ” I want to be immortal, and then die. ‘ The plot and the characters are ambiguous little is described about them and there is no general linear direction. Pieces of the puzzle are shown through different media throughout the film rather than through event and action. Jean Luc Goddard’s Breathless breaks away from conventions of narrative through the films structure, plot and subject matter.This is shown through the films loose portrayal of action but with a greater focus on underlying ideas and concepts. The narrative structure of Breathless breaks away from conventional lines as it has only a vague direction and motive. None of the characters have a defined goal that they work to achieve; the action that occurs does not have a direct response, which precedes it.
The narrative itself is portrayed through random events rather than a consequential chain of action.At the beginning of the film we are introduced to the main character Michel, although little information is provided on his background, his motives and his ultimate goal. Throughout Breathless Michel always seems to be running away from someone and running after someone else. The narrative is portrayed as a constant chase sequence with moments of action interspersed. As the film progresses segments of his identity, motive and emotions are revealed through other forms of media within the film, rather than directly through the plot itself.Although at the end of the film Michel is still running, he has run into himself. Through the loose structure of Breathless the narrative is depicted in a mirroring effect.
The structure of the film lacks convention as the narrative is not revealed in a linear form, it does not work towards a particular goal, but presents the details of the narrative as a reflection of a certain event. Throughout Breathless ideas are seen in one instance and later in the film they are reflected back in another. In the beginning sequence we see Michel in a car chase with the police, we hear gunshots although nothing is fired.In the final sequence Michel is again pursued by the police, the gunshots heard in the first seen are the ones, which eventually kill him at the end of the film. This notion of mirroring to convey narrative is also shown in the film through the reflexivity of ideas and camera movement. The first shot of the film depicts a newspaper advertisement with an illustration of a woman (possibly representing Patricia), who addresses the camera. In the final shot of Breathless the reflexivity of the initial shot is reflected back, but this time of Patricia herself.
The reflexivity and mirroring of structure and theme to convey narrative is also seen through other ideas in the film. In the beginning sequence Michel turns to address the camera, form this point the viewer will begin to sympathises with his character, although it is apparent that he is the anti hero, this in turn effects the way in which the narrative is read. The use of mirroring and reflection to portray narrative is also shown through the use of mirrors, reflections and pictures, which convey aspects of the story in Breathless.At the end of the film the notion of reflection and mirroring are reiterated. As Michel lies on the ground he carries out a set of facial expressions to Patricia, as he has done throughout the film in front of mirror. He expects that she will reflect it back to him, she doesn’t. This constructs a narrative ending for Michel; at this point we know that there will be no more mirrors for him.
Instead she runs her thumbnail across her lips, also an action that Michel performed. We are left wondering why it is she does this.This action leaves the narrative open ended, as there will be more mirrors for Patricia. In Goddard’s Breathless, another means of breaking away from conventional narrative, like the mirroring was to convey narrative detail through other forms of media within the film. These forms of media fill in the blanks as they provide insight to the motives and emotions of characters. Parts of the narrative is constructed through newspaper articles, which uncover the past doing of Michel. Throughout the film the newspaper keeps the narrative up to date, by providing insight on the actions and movement of him.
We see simultaneously the newspaper portrayal of Michel and Michel himself throughout the film. Although his goals are vague, through his phone conversations his motives and reasoning are uncovered. This media also alludes to a future tense. The stories Michel tells hint at his feelings towards Patricia, how he desires their future outcome and how he wishes her to respond. These forms of media establish narrative in unconventional ways as they reveal the character and the story through constructions of different viewpoint.These forms of media reveal three things about Michel and indirectly the narrative. We see through the newspaper what is happening and what has happened, the phone calls allude to future action, while the stories reveal his emotions and how he sees the situation.
These forms of narrative within the film convey the narrative through a past, present and future tense as the action simultaneously occurs. As for future tense, all the stories told in Breathless are almost presumptuous and wishful thinking, rather than future telling of the narrative.Michel’s story of the crook and the girl is his desire for Patricia’s response. In the end she gives an opposite response, telling Michel she doesn’t love him and that she has turned him in. This construction of narrative is also unconventional as it is not a typical ending and does not provide a resolution to the problems incurred. The shift away from conventional narrative in Breathless is also seen through the treatment of subject matter. It deals with themes that effect a younger audience.
Love is one of the main themes portrayed throughout the film, with love we see a more candid approach to sex and role reversals. The subject matter is dealt with in an unconventional way, as it is not a typical portrayal. It is not conveyed in linear form; boy meets girl, boy gets girl etc. The film’s narrative deals more with the issues surrounding love rather than telling a story of love. Throughout Breathless we are aware of the love between Michel and Patricia although it is displayed in indifferent ways and little is resolved.The character of Patricia is an indifferent lover, although she has Rome and Juliet ideals, she proclaims to be independent. It is a role reversal between Patricia and Michel; Patricia takes on an almost masculine role.
She chooses independence over love. In the final scene she turns Michel in, as this is the only way she can maintain her independence. This projects a paradoxical side of Patricia as she is masculine in the way she denies herself the will to love and be loved, but feminine in the way she can only achieve this through the extreme; ‘Love is all one can believe in. This is the quote given by the author at the press conference, During the conference the questions asked by the journalists reflect the qualms the characters have about love, the answers the author provides are the desires the characters have on love. This is significant as the narrative accumulates the theme, issue and resolution all at this point in the film. It contrasts the film as it within the action it is not as simple as question and answer. Throughout Breathless, many cultural references are made through the conveyance of narrative.
It sifts away from tradition as it celebrates the artistic quality of contemporary French film, through reference to other French art. Examples of this appreciation in Breathless are the depiction of significant landmarks in Paris, references to Renoir and French fine art, and French writing. In the film American culture is compared to that of the French and also given some reverence. As the author describes American women to be dominant and the icon of Humphrey Bogart is used and imitated by Michel. Cultural references instilled a sense of nationalism, but were also an unconventional device to portray narrative.The narrative of Breathless is conveyed with a certain sense of spontaneity, which makes this film unconventional. Events randomly occur throughout the film and other actions occur in response.
The structure of Breathless is centrifugal although it never has an outcome. It’s narrative moves away from convention as it lacks this closure; it has an open beginning and an open end. With it’s obvious shift away from defined narrative structure and lack of closure Goddard’s unconventional portrayal of narrative could almost be seen as another case of Waiting for Godot.