Sog.: Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut. Scen.: Jean-Luc Godard. F.: Raoul Coutard. M.: Cecile Décugis. Mus.: Martial Solal. Int.: Jean Seberg (Patricia Franchini), Jean-Paul Belmondo (Michel Poiccard), Daniel Boulanger (l’ispettore Vital), Henri-Jacques Huet (Antonio Berruti), Roger Hanin (Carl Zombach), Jean-Pierre Melville (Parvulesco), Van Doude (il giornalista americano), Liliane David (Liliane). Prod.: Georges de Beauregard per SNC – Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie e Imperia Films. DCP. Bn.
March 1960. À bout de souffle. I was 15. Godard was 29. He made Belmondo (it was the revelation of that year) say: “We are all dead men on leave”. I didn’t yet know that it was a quote from Lenin, nor that Mozart could best express the feelings of an anarchist. Whatever it was then, 87 minutes later I was literally breathless, and forevermore an adult. Godard, then a critic at the “Cahiers du cinéma”, author of a few short films, ‘seized’ a short screenplay by Truffaut that “he didn’t like” and directed this ‘new wave’ masterpiece in four weeks, in real interiors and exteriors, in Paris and Marseille. Sartre, Cocteau, Jeanson called it a miracle, and they were not alone. The public made a success of this story, starring Jean Seberg. Michel, a car thief and an anarchist, kills the police biker who is chasing him. Back in Paris, he finds Patricia, his American friend, and succeeds in becoming her lover again. He convinces her to go with him to Italy. But the police, who have discovered his identity, hunt him down. Patricia will give him up and Michel will be shot. Godard said: “It’s a documentary film about Belmondo and Seberg”. While he was being humorous, that’s exactly what it is: the gap between two languages, psychological for Patricia, poetic for Michel; the same words for a different meaning. Reality, when it overcomes poetry, translates into variations on death. Breathless, then, in the end. Not to see this film again (for the second or for the 100th time) would be, as it was written at the time, “to deprive oneself of some of the most beautiful and powerful emotions that cinema has offered lately”.
Jean-Claude Izzo, “Cinéma”, n. 437, 13-19 April 1988
À bout de souffle was the sort of film where anything goes: that was what it was all about. Anything people did could be integrated in the film. As a matter of fact, this was my starting-point. I said to myself: we have already had Bresson, we have just had Hiroshima, a certain kind of cinema has just drawn to a close, maybe ended, so let’s add the finishing touch, let’s show that anything goes. What I wanted was to take a conventional story and remake, but differently, everything the cinema had done. I also wanted to give the feeling that the techniques of film-making had just been discovered or experienced for the first time. The iris-in showed that one could return to the cinema’s sources; the dissolve appeared, just once, as though it had just been invented.
Jean-Luc Godard in Spécial Nouvelle Vague, curated by Jean Collet, Michel Delahaye, Jean-André Fieschi, André S. Labarthe and Bertrand Tavernier, “Cahiers du cinéma”, n. 138, December 1962; tr. Eng. in Cahiers du Cinema.1960-1968: New Wave, New Cinema, Reevaluating Hollywood, curated by Jim Hillier, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1986