There was before Breathless, and there was after Breathless. Jean-Luc Godard burst onto the film scene in 1960 with this jazzy, free-form, and sexy homage to the American film genres that inspired him as a writer for Cahiers du cinema. With its lack of polish, surplus of attitude, anything-goes crime narrative, and effervescent young stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, Breathless helped launch the French New Wave and ensured that cinema would never be the same.
Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless gets a third release from Criterion, this time a dual-format edition. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 and is delivered in a 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer on the dual-layer Blu-ray disc. A standard-definition version is presented on the first dual-layer DVD of the set. Unfortunately the DVD’s transfer is window boxed.
Despite a redo in the packaging and new disc art the discs are exactly the same as their respective former DVD and Blu-ray releases. Criterion has really just merged those two releases into one. What this means, of course, is that the transfers are exactly the same as what we got on the previous releases.
Which is fine as the transfer is quite wonderful, especially in comparison to the original DVD released by Fox Lorber oh-so-long ago. The Blu-ray delivers a far sharper, crisp image, delivering a staggering amount of fine details, specifically in patterns found in clothing, and film grain comes through quite clearly. Contrast is sharp with a superb delivery of gray tones, and rich, deep black levels.
The DVD appears to be the same high-def transfer and looks good itself. Though there is some compression noise noticeable and object detail isn’t as sharp, it manages to retain a rather filmic look itself. The only thing truly wrong with it is that it’s still window-boxed, since, as I’ve mentioned earlier, it’s still the exact same disc that was available in Criterion’s original DVD release.
The print looks good, with only a few minor blemishes remaining. Overall, all these years later, after the original DVD release in 2007, the transfer still looks rather wonderful.
Delivered in lossless linear PCM on the Blu-ray and Dolby Digital on the DVD, the film’s mono track is about as good as it probably can be, limited more by source materials and shooting style. The track is thin and tinny, coming off unnatural, but a good chunk of the film’s dialogue was looped in later, so that’s more than likely why a lot of it never sounds like it fits with the film. The film’s score comes off distorted and edgy during some of its louder moments, but as a whole it’s decent enough.
I guess the PCM track does sound a bit sharper, but I couldn’t notice too big a difference between both. They’re both clean and lack unnatural distortion, limited only by source materials.
The same supplements are included across both version, with everything available on the lone Blu-ray, and then spread across the two DVDs. I’ll go through them in the same order they are presented on the Blu-ray.
First is a collection of archival interviews recorded around the time of the film’s 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. Godard’s 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 Cinéma, 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.) Seberg’s 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.
Melville’s 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.
In all an excellent collection of interviews.
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. There’s some discussion about the cast, including issues with Seberg, who didn’t know what to make of Godard’s 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 ?a documentary about Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.? From this he points out the more ?documentary? 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 Rappaport’s narration, the essay quickly goes over Seberg’s 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 it’s 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 Godard’s statement that he considers filmmaking another form of criticism. He also explains the dedication to Monogram Pictures at the beginning. It’s a short but fun piece, which works like a sort of primer on Godard’s 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 Seberg’s 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 film’s 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 ?dream on,? 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 I’ve ever come across about the film.
And then finally we come to Godard’s 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(?) boyfriend’s apartment, the former beau being played by Belmondo. During most of its 12-minute running time, Belmondo’s 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 doesn’t give much mind to. It ends with a punchline and as a whole it’s 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. It’s actually a very fun film, and a great look at some of Godard’s first work.
The disc supplements then conclude with a theatrical trailer for the film.
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 Godard’s 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 Truffaut’s original treatment, based on a newspaper article he read, followed by Godard’s scenario. The basic ?plot? to the film is in Truffaut’s, but the finished product still greatly differs from it. Another excellent booklet from Criterion.
The DVD presents the interviews and trailer on the first disc, while the remaining supplements appear on the second dual-layer DVD.
It’s 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 isn’t 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.
This dual-format edition doesn’t present any upgrades or improvements over Criterion’s previous DVD and Blu-ray editions: the discs are the exact same discs available in those previous releases, with the DVD still presenting the old window-boxed transfer. But all these years after the original DVD release it’s still a solid edition, delivering a great looking transfer and an incredible set of supplements. For those that own the previous releases there’s no reason to get this one, but for those that have yet to pick it up it still comes with a high recommendation.