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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • LArchival interviews with director Jean-Luc Godard, and actors Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, and Jean-Pierre Melville
  • New video interviews with Coutard, assistant director Pierre Rissient, and filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker
  • New video essays: filmmaker and critic Mark Rappaport's "Jean Seberg" and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Breathless as Film Criticism"
  • Chambre 12, Hotel de suede, an eighty-minute French documentary about the making of Breathless, with members of the cast and crew
  • Charlotte et son Jules, a 1959 short film by Godard, starring Belmondo
  • French theatrical trailer

Breathless


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Jean-Luc Godard
Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, Daniel Boulanger, Henri-Jacques Huet, Roger Hanin, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Luc Godard
1960 | 90 Minutes | Licensor: Genius Entertainment

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #408 | Out of print
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: October 23, 2007
Review Date: December 21, 2010

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SYNOPSIS

There was before Breathless, and there was after Breathless. With its lack of polish, surplus of attitude, crackling personalities of rising stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, and anything-goes crime narrative, Jean-Luc Godard's debut fashioned a simultaneous homage to and critique of the American film genres that influenced and rocked him as a film writer for Cahiers du cinema. Jazzy, free-form, and sexy, Breathless (A bout de souffle) helped launch the French new wave and ensured cinema would never be the same.

Forum members rate this film 8.4/10

 

Discuss the film and DVD here   


PICTURE

Replacing Fox Lorberís previous (and hideous) DVD edition of Jean-Luc Godardís Breathless, Criterion presents the film in in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set.

In comparison to the old murky Fox Lorber DVD the presentation here is a revelation. The film is far sharper with better details, with film grain actually coming out looking pretty good. Contrast is also much better and the film no longer has that greenish tinge that was present on the older DVD, with clean whites, fairly deep blacks, and distinct gray levels in between.

The source materials are also much cleaner, with only a few marks scattered about. The only drawback is that the image is slightly window boxed, with a black border around the entire frame. While this always annoys me, I was able to live with it because the transfer here is still leaps and bounds better than the previous disaster Iíve been stuck with for years.

9/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The filmís shooting style does cause some problems for the audio track, presented here in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono in its original French. Dialogue was recorded over the film during post production and it does have an artificial, sort of tiny sound. Music is flat and weak, but as a whole this is still an improvement over the previous DVD. This edition has also been cleaned up more thoroughly, and I didnít detect much damage in the background.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

The previous Fox Lorber DVD included a couple of supplements, most notable being an audio commentary. Criterion doesnít include a track but instead provides a large and thorough collection of supplements making up for the lack of one. The supplements are spread over the two dual-layer discs.

(I will note that the menus, while creative, are obnoxious. Whenever you move between selections the colours of the menu change, meaning you have to wait for the menu to reload ever time you hit the arrow keys on your remote.

The first disc includes a collection of archival interviews recorded around the time of the filmís release (or a couple years after) running about 27-minutes in total, featuring a couple with Godard, one with Jean-Paul Belmondo, another with Jean Seberg, and then director Jean-Pierre Melville. Godardís are a little more open than I was expecting, with the first segment recorded at Cannes featuring the director talking a little about the film and the festival, and then the second, an appearance on Cinťma, de notre temps, presenting the director reflecting on the film, if not so fondly.

Both segments for Belmondo and Seberg are the longer ones, with Belmondo talking about getting the role in Breathless, what the production was like, then moving onto his public image and influences (he even touches on his boxing career.) Sebergís is a fascinating one as she spends most of the time talking more about her career before Breathless, specifically being discovered by Otto Preminger, cast in the title role of Saint Joan and then the critical fallout afterwards. She talks a little about the unorthodox shoot of Breathless and some of the frustrations she experienced.

Melvilleís is one of the more interesting ones. In it he comments on independent film and the French New Wave in general, as well as offering his opinions on directors working at the time. He speaks fondly of Godard and Breathless, even commenting on his editing style, born out of necessity once he realized the film was too long in its original cut.

The first disc then concludes with a theatrical trailer for the film.

Moving on to the second dual-layer disc, Criterion next includes a variety of recent interviews, starting with a segment featuring director of photography Raoul Coutard and assistant director Pierre Rissient. In this 22-minute piece, the two (recorded separately) cover the lifetime of the production from its early incarnation as a draft by Truffaut to its release. They both cover the various aspects of the filming, including what a typical day on the shoot was, technical advances, some of the unorthodox camera work, how they were able to shoot at night, and a lot of other technical tidbits, most of which is related to photography. Thereís some discussion about the cast, including issues with Seberg, who didnít know what to make of Godardís filmmaking style, and what Godard was like on set. Coutard probably has more screen time but both offer some great first-hand accounts about the production, which actually sounded like a blast to be a part of.

The next interview is with, surprisingly, director D.A. Pennebaker. He, of course, has nothing to do directly with Breathless but he recounts working with Godard on the film One P.M. and despite not really having a clue what it was about other than an attempt to turn a documentary around on itself, he most certainly enjoyed the experience. The main purpose of this segment, though, is for Pennebaker to flesh out the more documentary style elements to Breathless, building off of a statement Godard made where he said Breathless was ďa documentary about Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.Ē From this he points out the more ďdocumentaryĒ elements in the style of filmmaking, which are more common today, granted, but unheard of at the time. The segment runs about 10-minutes.

Next up are a couple of video essays, first one being a 19-minute piece by Mark Rappaport on Jean Seberg. Mixed with clips, photos, interviews, and Rappaportís narration, the essay quickly goes over Sebergís career, from her discovery by Preminger, to becoming a pop culture icon after Breathless, to her later career in film (which includes Paint Your Wagon and Airport) and then her unfortunate suicide. The piece features bits presented elsewhere on the disc but itís a very comprehensive and informative supplement.

Breathless as Criticism is an 11-minute essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum. This quick little bit is similar to features found on some of the other Criterion discs for Godard films, with Rosenbaum pointing out some of the cultural and film references found throughout, and pointing out bits that support Godardís statement that he considers filmmaking another form of criticism. He also explains the dedication to Monogram Pictures at the beginning. Itís a short but fun piece, which works like a sort of primer on Godardís style.

Next up is the biggest supplement, the 88-minute documentary Chambre 12, hotel de suede, made in 1993 by French television personality Claude Ventura. In it Ventura revisits the locations of the production, starting with the hotel room used in the film, noting that the hotel is to be demolished very soon. He also manages to get interviews with various people involved with the production, including Coutard, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and even Sebergís widower, along with other members of the crew. Through these interviews and various production notes and documentation he was able to track down, he uncovers a lot about the unorthodox production, the director, and even the filmís producer Georges de Beauregard. Amusingly he even calls Godard early on in hopes of getting him to talk about the film, to which the director responds ďdream on,Ē says au revoir and then hangs up. While the interviews are great, and as wonderful as the documentation is that he digs up, including the actual case that inspired the film, it can be a bit of a long-winded segment that could benefit from some editing. Still a nice inclusion and easily the most informative video piece Iíve ever come across about the film.

And then finally we come to Godardís short film Charlotte et son Jules, made around the same time as Breathless. It stars Anne Collette as a young woman who quickly returns to her ex(?) boyfriendís apartment, the former beau being played by Belmondo. During most of its 12-minute running time, Belmondoís character just carries on in a tirade once she enters his apartment, mocking her, putting her down, and then eventually pleading for her to stay, almost like a stream of consciousness, which Collette doesnít give much mind to. It ends with a punchline and as a whole itís a very playful film, with Godard of course testing out the medium, some elements of which he would reuse to an extent in Breathless, the most obvious being the entire conversation occurring in a small room, similar to the extended scene that takes place in the hotel room between Belmondo and Seberg. Itís actually a very fun film, and a great look at some of Godardís first work.

This closes off the disc seupplements.

And finally the set closes with an 80-page booklet that looks to be exactly the same as the one found accompanying the DVD edition. Inside you first get an incredibly extensive essay by Dudley Andrew on the impact Breathless had on the film world, and also covers some of Godardís other work. It also includes four reprinted interviews with Godard, who talks about the film (his opinion of it seeming to differ as time went on) and the French New Wave. And finally, the most intriguing inclusions are Truffautís original treatment, based on a newspaper article he read, followed by Godardís scenario. The basic ďplotĒ to the film is in Truffautís, but the finished product still greatly differs from it. Another excellent booklet from Criterion.

Itís a loaded edition, covering every aspect of the film incredibly well, from the actual production to a more analytical slant. The original Fox Lorber DVD had a commentary, but I recall it being fairly bland so it missing here isnít something to be too concerned about, plus all of the other supplements cover the film extraordinarily well. In the end a well-balanced and informative set of supplements.

10/10

CLOSING

A wonderful and, at the time, surprising upgrade, one that I had hoped for for a long while, and one in which I took great pleasure in replacing my Fox Lorber disc with. The transfer, despite Criterionís insistence on window boxing it, looks marvelous. Though their new Blu-ray does still manage to significantly improve over the transfer found on here, I still highly recommend this set to anyone who hasnít made the move to Blu-ray yet. A truly wonderful work of love.


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