Breathless (A Bout de Souffle)
The Red Balloon
seen @ Flicks on the Green, Central Park, New York NY
Okay, I understand that Jean-Luc Godard is an Important Filmmaker and Breathless is an Important Film. I spent a week writing about the French New Wave several years ago; I know the kind of filmmaking JLG and his peers made was unlike anything that came before, and I recognize that in this movie.
I dug the location shots on the streets of Paris. Combined with the hand-held cinematography, it made the whole thing look very modern. I didn't expect the jump cuts to be used as rapidly as they were in places, but that, too, was clearly a dramatic departure from the way films had been made before, and I can appreciate that. I would not dream of denying JLG his place as a radical director who helped kick-start a cinematic revolution. All that said...
...I hated this movie! First of all, it didn't help that I watched most of Breathless while needing to pee. The clearing in Central Park where the movie was shown somehow neglected to include port-o-potties in its set-up, so I had to hold it in for maybe three-fourths of the movie until I said the hell with it and packed up my blanket and left, so I could find a tree to pee behind. And did I mention how cold it was? I wasn't watching under the best of circumstances...
...but I would've put up with it if I had liked the movie more. Jean-Paul Belmondo's character is an ugly man who thinks he's God's gift to women, when in fact all he does is sponge off of them and use them for sex - and they LET him! This actually made me angry; that chicks, including those in the audience, would find a guy like this "witty" and "charismatic," when in real life he'd be called on his bullshit before he made it to first base. Actually, if the chicks in the audience did think he was funny, maybe his schtick really would work, but any girl who falls for a dude like that is no girl I would want.
Which brings me to Jean Seberg. There's this one long and dull scene in her bedroom with her and Belmondo that stops the film dead in its tracks. All they do is talk about useless crap, and she's constantly beating his grabby hands off her. What does a foxy chick like her see in a shallow, horny Lothario like him? For the life of me, I could not figure it out and after awhile I stopped trying. I fiddled around on my cellphone (which I wouldn't have done if this wasn't an outdoor movie) until the scene mercifully ended. The rest of what I saw before I walked out didn't do much for me either.
The night wasn't a total loss, however. I also got to see a short film I hadn't seen in ages, The Red Balloon. It played in front of Breathless, and boy, was I happy about that. I feel fairly confident in saying this may be the first foreign film I ever saw, and the memory is still strong. I was in grade school, maybe third grade, and we were on a class outing to our local library. We were shown around the place and told how it worked, and then the librarian showed us the movie - which must have been on 8 or 16mm or something like that. Home video was still several years away.
It's an almost-silent short about a kid and a balloon with what appears to be a mind of its own. Looking at it now, it reminds me somewhat of Little Fugitive in that we're following an unsupervised child all over city streets and he doesn't appear to be in grave danger. The streets and alleys of Paris are well put on display in lush Technicolor.
Balloon is one of those kind of tales where the magic of something like a sentient balloon is taken for granted, but that's part of its charm. I know it appealed to me as a kid, and I'm glad to know it still does over thirty years later.