The final scene in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (À Bout de Soufflé) is just one of many scenes in this film indicative of the French New Wave movement in cinema, a late 1950s and 1960s movement somewhat influenced by the socio-economic conditions of France following World War II. The movement was partially influenced by Italian Neorealism as well; a style of film that tended to shoot on location and often worked with unprofessional working class actors. The French New Wave movement took this cinema breakthrough further by ultimately rebelling against traditional French cinema. The style in French New Wave films tends to be much more spontaneous and imperfect than the clear-cut, narrative or “dictatorial” French cinema of the past. Actors sometimes improvise dialogues, and editors cut less smoothly and sometimes infrequently, resulting in jump cuts and long tracking shots. Films also tend to be low budget.

The following scene successfully exemplifies the French New Wave style. Much of the scene (and the film in general) is shot on the streets of Paris or in a single apartment. This particular scene takes place solely in the street, and requires limited props or expensive factors. The tracking that takes place as Michel attempts to run away from the police and Patricia does not appear to be as perfect as it could be. It isn’t smooth like movies nowadays, and this suggests the low budget, unprofessional feel associated with the movement. Many French New Wave films were shot with friends and the tracking was done by putting the camera on something like a shopping cart (explaining why the shots may not have been as smooth as they could have been). Also, the tracking in shots in this film are particularly important to note in that they last for quite a while. For instance, the film goes from having two or three second shots with police and secondary character reactions to having seventeen or even fifty second intervals of Michel running. Instead of cutting to the end of the chase, Godard decided to prolong Michel’s running scene and let his audience feel the exhaustion the protagonist feels. This is important because previous films put more emphasis on dialogue and traditional form. This scene, however, showcases the desire for French New Wave filmmakers to break with tradition and hone in on the aspects of film that can make the story feel real to their audience. Long tracking shots and natural settings help them achieve this sense of reality in that they leave little in disguise.

Jump shots were another common element of French New Wave cinema and are particularly prevalent in Breathless. Jump shots occur when the transitions between shots are not seamless, and are in a sense another way directors at this time sought to rebel against the perfection of previous cinema. This scene, as you can see by the shot breakdown, is full of jump cuts. Most of the transitions between shots, especially between characters, are edited in a way that makes you notice the sudden change in scenery. For instance, we see Michel get shot by a police officer (followed by a long tracking in shot of him running and stumbling) and then there is a sudden switch to Patricia (and the police car) following him. Though we can infer that the police would obviously chase after a criminal, the fact that we did not physically see them get back into the police car helps make for a jump cut. Even more apparent is Patricia’s appearance. Maybe we can also infer that Patricia, perhaps suddenly remorseful of her actions upon seeing Michel shot, would run after the protagonist as well, but her sudden appearance is not indicated earlier at all. We simply see her running towards him not the process whereby she got there.

Finally the variation of the shot lengths and the natural lighting further indicate the low-budget, unprofessional feel of the French New Wave movement. Shots are not consistent in this scene. Some are jump cuts of two seconds while others are tracking shots of fifty. Lighting is not perfect at all, and panning and other physical techniques are fairly amateur. Even the end of the film breaks with tradition. The ending is not happy. The protagonist dies, insults his lover, and leaves her to ponder in remorse and in confusion. This kind of dissatisfaction with life throughout the movie (again influenced by the lifestyle in France after World War II) comes to a crescendo here. Not only do we end with the protagonist dying, but we also end with an insult and an inability to comprehend that insult. The death, the distance between the lovers, and the lack of resolution makes this film feel real and scandalous at the same time both of which Godard and his fellow French New Wave filmmakers were hoping to achieve.

SHOT BREAKDOWN:

Shot #, Shot type, Movement, Description , Timing

1 WS Minimal panning right Michel sees Antonio’s car,
walks toward it as it approaches
and tries to catch up with it; 2 sec

2 WS Pan right Michel runs to catch up with
the car; 5 sec

3 MS Slight pan
-> Static Michel gets the money 8 sec
from Antonio and warns him that
the cops are coming;

4 CU Static Michel tells Antonio that he won’t
run from the cops; 15 sec

5 MS Jump Cut -> Static Michel and Antonio discuss
Michel’s decision; 11 sec

6 MS Pan right, Pan left Antonio reaches into car to give
Michel his gun; 4 sec

7 WS Jump Cut The police arrive; 2 sec

8 MS Static -> High Angle Antonio’s reaction,
the police exit car; 3 sec

9 MCU ->
MS -> MCU Static -> Pan right
(matching action shot) Antonio throws Michel his gun; 3 sec

10 MS Jump cuts Michel picks up gun,
Antonio drives away, police officer
draws gun, Michael is shot; 8 sec

11 WS Jump Cut,
Tracking in Michel runs from the police; 17 sec

12 MCU Jump Cut,
Tracking Patricia (followed by police car)
runs after wounded Michel; 6 sec

13 WS Jump Cut,
Tracking in Michel sees Patricia and police
and continues to run despite stumbling; 50 sec

14 MS ->
MCU Jump Cut,
Tracking Patricia and police still tailing Michel; 6 sec

15 MCU Jump Cut Michel lying on the ground as Patricia
and police approach; 8 sec

16 CU Jump Cut Patricia reacts; 24 sec

17 CU Jump Cut Michel reacts; 18 sec

18 CU Jump Cut Patricia reacts to Michel; 7 sec

19 CU Jump Cut Michel insults Patricia, then dies; 25 sec

20 CU Jump Cut ->
black out Patricia reacts to Michel’s statement
and death; 30 sec

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