In which I expand upon incoherent livetweets and deliver my thoughts on last night’s insane episode of Breaking Bad. You probably shouldn’t read this article if you haven’t watched the ep, so I’m putting it under a read more.
I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating when I refer to Breaking Bad as The Best Show On Television. Vince Gilligan’s sophisticated, riveting, and beautifully engineered meth drama is a masterpiece of television, with a cinematic quality that almost seems too great to be contained by the small screen. AMC’s gem is well-written, beautifully photographed, thematically complex, and contains top notch performances unlike any on television.
Bryan Cranston is mind-blowingly amazing (and often terrifying) as the once high school science teacher and cancer patient Walter White, a brilliant chemist and family man who, to secure his family’s future, morphs into the criminal mastermind and meth manufacturer “Heisenberg”, the New Mexico kingpin constantly eluding capture by his DEA brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris). Anna Gunn is absolutely brilliant as Walt’s wife Skyler, an amazing character who, for some reason, gets a lot of misguided hate from viewers (back off, Skyler is queen). Aaron Paul shines as Jesse Pinkman, the heart of the show whose humanity and tender-heartedness only become more apparent as his business partner and frenemy Walter White grows colder and abandons more and more of his scruples.
A lot has changed since the Pilot, in which Walter White is first diagnosed with cancer, teams up with his former student Jesse Pinkman, and cooks his first batch of meth in a beat up RV. As Walt says, “Chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to see it as the study of change. It is growth… then decay… then transformation.” Growth, decay, and transformation are the basic plot points of the show, as viewers witness the frustrated, dying chemist stuck in a low-paying job transform into Heisenberg (and by Heisenberg I mean an enormous douche who kills people and does terrible things). My mom used this proverb to describe Walt (even though she doesn’t really watch the show): “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Most times, Breaking Bad makes me feel like I’m on the verge of a heart attack. Season 4, my personal favorite, is like one gigantic instant heart attack, especially the last three episodes, which contain a level of intensity so high it’s almost dangerous. When you’re not crying, cowering, or on the edge of the seat, Breaking Bad also has the ability to make you laugh a lot with its brilliantly crafted dialogue. It’s an amazing show, and an amazingly well-written show. It also has really good music.
And now, after four and a half seasons, AMC is preparing to air the final eight episodes that will bring the series to its close. It’s not the kind of show for which a happy ending seems likely, and I could speculate about who will die and how, but, like everyone else, I’m just going to have to wait and see how the drama unfolds. In preparation for the conclusion of my absolute favorite television show, I’ve been marathoning a rewatch via Netflix (the first eight episodes of season 5 became available on streaming just in time!), and I’m currently extremely emotional about this insane roller coaster ride of a show.
Since writing the above, the first two of the final eight episodes have aired, and after watching both multiple times, I’m still in shock. 5×9, “Blood Money”, was a finely crafted episode directed by the wonderful Bryan Cranston, who I think deserves a big round of applause. Tears appeared in my eyes the second it started, and throughout the rest of the episode it became apparent that this is going to be an insane final season containing a dangerous level of intensity. If every episode is anything like this one, I thought, I’m not really sure if I’m going to survive the end of this show.
“Buried” aired last night, and there’s so much that I could say about it that I should probably make a separate post. Basically, it was even more intense than “Blood Money”, and had me crying at intervals. Breaking Bad is probably the most stressful show on television–you’d think that sitting down to watch your favorite show in the evening would be an enjoyable experience. Well, watching Breaking Bad is… certainly an experience. THAT EPISODE WAS CRAZY.
The short version of this post? Go watch this show if you don’t already. And if you do, please join me in a group hug as we await the end.
I remember reading on the back of the Nights of Cabiria DVD case, “features the never-before-seen seven-minute ‘man with a sack’ sequence.” I watched a special feature on the sequence after I watched the film but still couldn’t fully understand why the censors made Fellini cut the sequence. I knew that it upset the Catholic Church but still, why? After a few viewings my question was answered.
When Cabiria and the others are discussing to go see the Madonna, the group of Catholic pilgrims pass by. The way the lights
shines on the group makes them look like they are a phantom, something unattainable and intangible to Cabiria. She feels drawn to them and walks towards the street. She stops and falls under a streak of light; but this light shows Cabiria’s realness. She is a human person living in the difficult conditions of post-WWII Italy and, more importantly, struggling to find happiness and love. This shot is stark, sharp, and concrete. She continues to walk behind them when their chanting is dominated by the hum of a truck, Cabiria’s next costumer. This sets the basis for what is to come in the next few scenes.
I will begin with Cabiria’s travel to the shrine. I focus on Cabiria because of all the people in her group, she is the one who takes the visit to the Madonna solemnly. One could argue Wanda as well but, to me, Cabiria is the only one. In The Story of Film, Mark Cousins argues that “Nights of Cabiria reflect[s] a society in which religion has disappeared and only its kitsch images remain” (249). When Cabiria and the others arrive at the shrine, it’s a mad-house or, if I may, a circus. There are numerous stalls selling Catholic trinkets, people walking every which way, the sound of people’s chanting and bells overlapping, elaborate candle setups, people cramming to get into the shrine.It seems many of the workers are there to capitalize on the Madonna; and it only gets worse. As Cabiria scans the walls, there are numerous lighted signs and candles in “honor” of the Madonna;
crutches to show that the Madonna did have mercy on them. However, the way Fellini shoots it makes it seem like it’s a commercial attraction rather than something holy. As they climb up the steps, people scream and shout to the Madonna to make them well or to help them. They throw their arms in the air, in a sense, forgetting themselves. Cabiria, in contrast, does not. Cabiria is the only one wearing a white, plain outfit, a color that is synonymous with holiness and purity. Her expression is sincere and her wide eyes says much more than all the shouts in the room. When Cabiria does say something, it is not exaggerated or head turning, but rather honest and quiet. Even her request to the Madonna, “Help me change my life,” is much more humble than some of the other requests like the uncle who asks to walk again. Once they leave the Madonna, Cabiria becomes frustrated and angry that the Madonna has not helped any of them. The Madonna, and therefore God, is not there for the people. All the people have now are the objects and images which fuel the faith.
Now for the man with a sack sequence. The night Cabiria sees the traveling Catholics, she receives a costumer. Afterwards, she walks home and stumbles upon a man with a sack. However, this time, that haunting light does not hit him. Rather it shines above him, thus he is real. As she follows him, she sees he gives poor people without homes food and other items that they need to live. He is kind but his expression does not reveal much else of his personality. After reviewing this scene again, I can understand why they made Fellini cut this sequence. When they first meet, the man with a sack shines his light directly onto Cabiria, seeing her as she is and not forcing her to catch up with him. As she talks with him, she is more spiritually fulfilled than she is when she goes to pray to the Madonna. The man with a sack is tangible, real, and someone she can talk to. The more Cabiria talks to him, the more we learn about Cabiria’s early life. She says that her name is Maria Ceccarelli and that her mother and father died when she was young. Cabiria takes down her defenses and shows a side that we have not seen previously. Without this sequence, Fellini is just slamming the Catholic faith. However with it, he is saying that it is everyday people take it upon themselves and help others by giving them what they need, whether it be faith, confidence, or everyday necessities. Probably not something they want to hear.
Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express is the interconnected tales of two police officers who’ve just undergone heart-breaking breakups and face loneliness in a city of millions.
In a swirl of beautiful imagery, Chunking Express tells the stories of Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), depressed about the end of his relationship with a pineapple-loving girl named May, and Cop 663 (Tony Leung), likewise depressed about the end of his relationship with his beautiful flight attendant girlfriend (Valerie Chow). Similarly, both cops become interested in new women: Cop 223 becomes captivated by a mysterious drug runner in a blonde wig and sunglasses (Brigitte Lin), while Cop 663’s storyline becomes entangled with that of a quirky, well-meaning, California-dreaming snack bar worker named Faye (Faye Wong).
The two narratives are separate from each other, though loosely connected in that both of the lovesick cops frequent the same restaurant, and both deal with heartbreak, though in different ways. Cop 223 collects cans of pineapple with the expiration date of May 1, telling himself that once he has collected 30 of these cans, he will either be reunited with his ex-girlfriend May, or his love will, like the cans of pineapple, “expire”. Meanwhile, Cop 663 pep-talks the various objects around the apartment he used to share with the flight attendant girlfriend who left him.
Though Chungking Express is humorous and smartly written all throughout, I found the second part of the movie (Cop 663’s storyline) to be the most compelling. After falling for Cop 663 (Tony Leung), endearing snack bar worker Faye begins sneaking into his apartment he shared with his girlfriend and brightening up the place, unbeknownst to him. Eventually, though, he figures it out (although it takes him a ridiculously long time). It’s pretty goddamn cute.
This is only the second Wong Kar-Wai film I’ve seen after In the Mood for Love, and I loved it a whole lot. I can’t wait to watch more!
It’s been awhile since any of us kool kats posted here at Moviefellas. I’ve been trying to get in as much movie-watching as possible in between rewatching the entirety of AMC’s Breaking Bad (expect a post about that coming soon…) and getting ready to go off to college for the first time ever, and recently I enjoyed watching Umberto D. for the first time during a Skype movie date with my fellow Moviefella Miranda.
Umberto D. is, in a word, heartbreaking. Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist film offers a stark view into the reality of Umberto D. Ferrari, an aged former government worker in postwar Italy who loves his dog Flike and is having a hard time making ends meet. Nothing seems to go his way–his coarse, unsympathetic landlady threatens to evict him and his dog if he does not come up with a large sum that he is incapable of raising. As if things weren’t looking bleak enough, Umberto falls ill with tonsillitis.
Umberto’s life is marked by loneliness. Perhaps his only human friend is the pregnant maid who works in his building. Umberto’s one constant, loving companion, though, is his adorable little dog Flike, a source of light in his otherwise depressing life. Flike was probably my favorite part of this overall wonderful film. Watching it, I found myself growing extremely anxious about what would become of these two friends.
The performance by Carlo Battisti, a nonprofessional actor, felt incredibly real. Umberto is a resilient, heartbreaking figure whose desperation and poverty make for a grim but sincere and heartfelt film from De Sica. De Sica’s exploration of working class struggles (and just human struggles in general, such as old age and loneliness) make for a beautiful, tear-inducing, and noteworthy neorealist film that I definitely would recommend. In a relatively short running time (1 hour and 29 mins), De Sica packs an emotional punch and powerful message, creating a film that is sure to stick with you.
Park Chan-wook’s South Korean revenge thriller Oldboy is overwhelming in every possible way. Watching this movie was such an intense experience that I kind of don’t even know where to begin with this review.
First of all, Oldboy is one of those movies where giving away too many crucial plot points beforehand would ruin the experience for any viewer. The thrill of Oldboy is the gradual release of the truth; the slow reveal of the intricate details behind Oh Dae-Su’s kidnapping and release.
I didn’t really know much about the movie before watching it (other than a lot of people telling me it was amazing), which in hindsight was definitely the best to watch it. Everything was a surprise, and my eyes were glued to the screen the entire time (other than a few moments when, squeamishly, I had to look away). By the end of it, I felt like I had been run over by a train.
Without giving away too much, though, in case anyone reading this hasn’t seen it, the basic premise of the film is that businessman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is kidnapped one night and imprisoned for fifteen years, torn away from his life and daughter and all of society. Without any explanation as to why, he is trapped in a room with no human contact, and nothing but a TV to keep him connected to the outside world. It is through his many hours watching this television that Dae-su learns of his wife’s murder, a case in which he is a suspect. After fifteen years, Oh Dae-su emerges from his prison extremely changed, and now must seek answers and revenge. The new Dae-su — who is dark and intense and played beautifully by Choi Min-sik — is taken in by a young woman named Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), who he meets at a sushi restaurant.
Oldboy is raw, gritty, violent, and powerful. It’s shocking and emotional and a complete roller coaster ride of a movie. It’s also filled with a lot of really memorable scenes involving hammers and live octopuses. The famous one-take hallway scene, in which Dae-su single-handedly fights his way through an army of henchmen, is particularly brilliant.
Fun facts from Wikipedia about the octopus scene: “The octopus being eaten alive was not computer-generated; four were used during the making of this scene. Actor Choi Min-sik, a Buddhist, said a prayer for each one. It should also be noted that the eating of live octopuses (called sannakji (산낙지) in Korean) as a delicacy exists in East Asia, although it is usually cut, not eaten whole. When asked in DVD commentary if he felt sorry for the actor Choi Min-sik, director Park Chan-wook stated he felt more sorry for the octopus.”
Now, about that remake. A couple of days ago, the first trailer for the English-language, Spike Lee-directed 2013 remake of Oldboy was released, and I saw a lot of outrage in response to it. Outrage that I think, after viewing the original, is definitely justifiable. Halfway through watching the movie, I found myself asking, “Why are they even remaking this?” To cash in on English-speaking audiences (and close-minded people who refuse to watch movies if they have to read subtitles — I know for a fact that these people exist) who haven’t seen the original, maybe? Remakes are acceptable if the source material can somehow be improved upon or reinterpreted, but I don’t see any way that this remake of Oldboy can do either of those things. And from the looks of the trailer, it’s not going to.
The concept of Oldboy is brilliant, and it is beautifully constructed and executed. I’m not exactly sure how any remake could improve, let alone measure up to, the original’s excellence. I just hope that viewers who go to see Spike Lee’s remake (which is out October 8 of this year) will watch the original first. Or, honestly, I just really hope that, at the very least, viewers know that the original even exists.
I had been meaning to watch this film for ages, and put it off because the version Netflix has available stream is an English-dubbed version (I really, really don’t recommend watching anything — especially this — dubbed unless you have no other option), but the other day I was informed that you can watch Oldboy for free on Hulu, so I ran to it with open arms. And it definitely paid off.
My advice to first-time viewers: prepare yourself. Oldboy is a movie that you should open your mind to and allow yourself to be absorbed into (getting sucked into it isn’t hard). The plot twist(s) and overall intensity will hit you like a freight train. After watching it, I felt dazed and drained — it’s a movie that you really experience. And it’s one hell of an experience. I’m still in shock, and I think I will continue to be for days/weeks more before this film fully sinks in.
Have you ever had those days where you’re in the worst funk but you have no idea why? Or the days that just about everything goes wrong? Expect you don’t know what to do to cheer yourself up? I have had many of those days and I’ve discovered the certain soundtracks/artists and films that help put a smile on my face or just help me out of that funk. I decided it would be fun to create a post of the 5 films that I love to put on whenever I’m ~down in the dumps~ Perhaps you’ll find that some of these films can help your bad day become better!
1) The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Yes, this movie is absolutely absurd, ridiculous, idiotic, random, nonsensical, etc. But that’s just why I love it, especially on these sort of days. It’s impossible to think about anything else going on in real life because you’re wondering just what the heck is even going on. You’ll find yourself laughing, perhaps even more so if you have the Midnight Experience option on and read the call-backs. Plus it’s impossible not to like these songs; seriously, just admit it now. We’ve all sang along to at least one song or have a favorite (mine being “Over at the Frankenstein Place”). So the soundtrack is also a great fix as well. I don’t care what anyone says; it’s the perfect medicine for a crappy day.
*Oh, and Tim Curry. That’s all.
2) Some Like it Hot
Yeah, you get Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in drag, Marilyn Monroe, and a Billy Wilder script and direction, you’ve got a fabulously and ridiculously funny film. Before I watched this movie, I expected it to be overrated because so many people loved it (think Breakfast at Tiffany’s). Expect I forgot that just about any Billy Wilder film is flawless. This one is no exception. After I watched it, it quickly became one of my favorite films. I’ve watched it so many times that unfortunately I’ve picked up on almost all the jokes :'( But nonetheless it’s great for these sort of days because Wilder’s jokes never get old. This is one of the films I recommend to newbies to Old Hollywood films because it’s still hysterical. So if you haven’t seen it, then it might be best to save this film for one of those days :)
It’s impossible to not be charmed by Jimmy Stewart’s Elwood P. Dowd and, of course, his best friend Harvey, the six foot, three and one half inch tall invisible rabbit. For me, Stewart plays his character so beautifully that you’re captivated by Elwood and that could be enough. But his sister is deeply concerned about Elwood and wants to put him in an institution. The film is unlike anything else and has the power to make you forget reality and focus into the world of Elwood and Harvey. And the question is: is Harvey real?
4) Nights of Cabiria
If you know me, you know that right after Annie Hall my favorite film is Nights of Cabiria. Part of the reason is because of Cabiria. Giulietta Masina gave one of the greatest performances of all film history in that role. She brings her to life; there is no fake, Hollywood setup. Instead, she takes the neo-realist era approach and makes Cabiria one of the most genuine and real characters of cinema. Cabiria has been wounded in the past but still manages to keep going through. She puts on a tough facade so she doesn’t get hurt but she is still very naïve. It is impossible to not like Cabiria. While at the beginning of the film you might think her rude or ungrateful, as the film gradually unfolds you see why the way she is and you begin to understand. And if you have no feelings towards the end then I don’t know what to say. But anyways, Cabiria is stubborn, spunky, determined, her own and I absolutely love her. And that’s why I watch Cabiria. She’s like a best friend to me, and I mean, who doesn’t need his or her best friend on a bad day.
5) You Can’t Take It With You
This was one of the first Old Hollywood films I watched and I loved it to pieces. I laughed throughout the entire time, I shipped Jean and Jimmy, I wanted to be a part of Jean’s family; the whole deal. And I just realized that it was a Capra film, but that shouldn’t surprise me. I love it for these days because it gives me hope and sends the message to do what you love to do and what you want to do. Have fun. Don’t be quick to judge others. Make time for your family. And most importantly, be yourself. Take advantage of the options given to you and live your life the way you want to live it, not how others say you should. I don’t think it can be more optimistic than that :)
On Friday, TCM honored French filmmaker François Truffaut in their Friday Night Spotlight lineup, so I camped out on the couch with a frozen pizza and some blankets to watch Les quatre cent coups (The 400 Blows), Truffaut’s first feature.
The 400 Blows is the first of Truffaut’s films centering around Antoine Doinel, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, whose life in this film mirrors the real life struggles of François Truffaut. Like Doinel, Truffaut was born out of wedlock but accepted as a son by the man his mother soon married. His childhood was troubled, as shown by the life of Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows. So brutally honest that his parents were hurt by the film (Truffaut defended his portrayal of his childhood, which he told them really was that unhappy), The 400 Blows is a touching story about growing up, touched with incredible insight and personal experience.
Antoine grows up in a cramped apartment with his mother (who really doesn’t seem to like her son very much) and stepfather, where he always seems to be unwanted and in the way, or else left completely alone. Misunderstood and mistreated by his callous and largely uncaring parents, Antoine engages in a life of petty crime and juvenile delinquency, eventually leading to his arrest for the theft of a typewriter. He is sent to an observation center for troubled youth, where, at the end of the film, he escapes and runs to the nearby sea.
In the famous final scene of The 400 Blows, we see Antoine Doinel standing on the shore and seeing the ocean–something he dreamed of all his life–for the first time. In literature, art, film and elsewhere, the ocean can often be a symbol of hope and renewal. As the final frame freezes on young Antoine, at the brink of the sea, my thoughts were that there is hope for him. Children are in the vulnerable position to be molded–for better or for worse–by their environment (which includes parents, who probably have more power than anyone in shaping the adults that we become). But as they mature, they have the opportunity to free themselves from their past, or from oppressive environments. That hope seems to exist for tender, movie-loving Antoine, who, as a maturing boy, has choices he can make to determine his own future.
Antoine’s real-life counterpart François Truffaut did just that, becoming one of Europe’s most celebrated filmmakers and a huge influence on the New Wave movement through his passion for and dedication to film. Movies became a kind of schooling for the future filmmaker, who, as a young’un, set goals for himself to watch more movies and to read more books. The 400 Blows, with its depth, sincerity, and honesty, shows that Truffaut’s dedication to cinema paid off. Henri Decae’s cinematography and the young talent of Jean-Pierre Léaud add to the impact of Truffaut’s touching debut feature.
After finishing The 400 Blows, I was already deeply attached to the character of Antoine Doinel, and wanted to see more of him, as well as learn more about the life of François Truffaut. I can’t wait to watch Truffaut’s other movies about Antoine (Antoine and Colette, Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run), as well as more of Truffaut’s films in general. Shoutout to my fellow Moviefellas writer Miranda for letting me know this was on TCM!
“We’ll find them in the end, I promise you…We’ll find them.” This line is my first recollection of The Searchers. I was about seven years old and we were in Disney for our family vacation. Back then at Christmas, all the rides would have two hours+ waits, including The Great Movie Ride; but that didn’t bother me. Instead, I was in awe of the larger than life movie screen in the faux-Gruman’s Chinese Theatre, playing trailers of various classic films featured in The Great Movie Ride, such as Footlight Parade, Casablanca, Singin’ in the Rain, etc. and, of course, The Searchers. I can’t tell you why that particular line stuck out to me; perhaps it was the determination and grit in John Wayne’s voice or the composition of the shot. Whatever the case, it did and it made an impression on me.
I’ve never been a fan of the Western genre, mostly because its setting doesn’t appeal to me but also due to its treatment and view of Native Americans. I pushed this film off for quite some time because of those reasons; but once I began watching the films of the 1970’s (ex. Taxi Driver), I knew that it was probably time to watch The Searchers. Brushing aside my bias for Western films, I sat down and began the film.
Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns to his brother’s home three years after the Civil War. Still bitter about the Confederate’s
loss, Ethan comes off very cynical, somewhat cocky, and hard-edged but also very alone. Ethan is pleased to see his brother, Aaron, and his family again but takes an instant dislike to Martin (Jeffery Hunter) because of his part-Indian blood. Right off the bat we learn that Ethan is racist towards the neighboring Indians. The next day, a neighbor’s cattle are stolen and Ethan and Martin go along to help find the culprit. When the men find the cattle dead, they realize it was all a trick by the Comanche Indians to lead them away from their homes and families. Ethan and Martin come back to find that Aaron, his wife, and his son were killed and their two daughters kidnapped. Ethan and Martin go on a search for both daughters Debbie (played by Lana Wood and Natalie Wood) and Lucy. Ethan eventually finds Lucy dead near the Comanche camp but does not find Debbie. The rest of the film covers the next five years of their search for Debbie and ‘rescuing’ her.
I’m really not sure what to say about this film. I’ll admit that if it wasn’t for Martin, I don’t think I would have been able to stand it. Ethan came off very strong and almost dislikable to me. Martin didn’t allow Ethan to keep pushing him around and stood his ground; plus his story line offered comic relief in a few scenes. It was hard to put aside my contempt for the representation of Native Americans in this film but that was where Martin helped.
Let’s establish the fact that John Ford is an absolute genius with the camera and Winton C. Hoch’s cinematography fully captures the tone of the film. Ford frames as many of his shots as he can through some sort of opening, such as a cave or a door. I love this idea as it helps focus the attention and emphasize the landscape of the shot. Ford also utilizes depth very well. Perhaps the most obvious is the shot of Debbie running down the sand towards Martin and Ethan. Overall, Ford is a master at making a Western a GREAT Western by going above and beyond.
I’m going to have to watch The Searchers again just to appreciate Ford. I think it will be better because I won’t focus so much on “what happens” but rather the directing and acting. For me, watching a movie a second time is very beneficial because I know the story so I can focus on the little things that I missed before. Even as I was going through the film to take screencaps after I finished it, I was stunned by the composure and set-up of his shots. Perhaps I will add more Ford films to my list but I think it’ll still take me awhile to warm up to John Wayne and the Western genre.
It’s very clear to see why this film was such an influence on films in the 1970’s; there were so many aspects of The Searchers that I saw in Taxi Driver. But perhaps the one most similar to it is their disconnect from the world. We meet Ethan and he is alone and by the end of the film, after five years of searching and riding with Martin, he is alone. I love the last shot; Wayne standing in the doorway and to me, he almost seems unsure of himself. No one is there is to say thank you to him for bringing Debbie home as they’ve already gone inside with her. But the inside is black and empty and Ethan stands outside of it. It’s foreign to him; then the door closes. We don’t see what happens to Ethan. So what does happen to him? What is his purpose now? What will he do? The answer: we don’t know.
À bout de souffle (Breathless), directed by Jean-Luc Godard, is a hard film to review. On one hand, I love it: it’s fluffy, fun, jazzy, and set in Paris. On the other hand, it’s only so-so: jump cuts distract from the almost nonexistent plot, faux-improvised dialogue adds nothing to the story, and there are many pointless scenes. Yet it’s such an iconic film – and the leads are so charismatic – that even though it is a bit overhyped I have to say that I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Godard is a very polarizing director, his personality aside – I’ve found that most people either love him or hate him. Personally, I have yet to form an opinion. He’s a groundbreaking director, there’s no doubt about that, but he almost oozes pretention. À bout de souffle was his first full length feature film, and it’s obvious (my first Godard film was Pierrot le fou, a much more polished film and one of his best). There are hundreds of unprofessional jump cuts in the film, and yes, I know they’re meant to be artsy, but they really distract from the flow of the film and the viewing experience.
À bout de souffle is the story of car thief Michel (think Grand Theft Auto: Paris) who steals a car and accidentally kills a policeman in the act. He travels back to Paris to meet up with Patricia, an American student he met in Nice, and ask her to go to Italy with him. They spend a lot of time talking as he convinces her to go with him, and afterwards, they are confronted by the police.
The strength and the enjoyment of the film lies with the two leads, Jean-Paul Belmondo (whose abs also play a supporting role) and the American Jean Seberg. While it takes a while to warm up to Belmondo’s Bogart-obsessed, misogynistic Michel, there’s no doubt that Belmondo’s presence keeps the viewers engaged in Michel’s story. And then there’s Seberg as Patricia. She’s dazzling, charming, and cute. I wanted to be Seberg as I watched À bout de souffle. Everything about her was effortless and cool – her hair, her striped ensembles, her voice…really, I could go on and on. It isn’t hard to see why Michel is so captivated by her and why he almost literally orbits around her.
At times, À bout de souffle is ironic and paradoxical. It’s almost overtly sexist with Michel’s treatment of women, yet Patricia is undoubtedly a modern women. She works, lives on her own, seeks out an education, sleeps with other men, and speaks her mind. She’s a free women on the edge of second-wave feminism. I’m not sure if Patricia’s freedom (and her ability to make her own choices, despite Michel’s wishes) was purposely juxtaposed with Michel’s sexism, but it does add an interesting element to the film.
The soundtrack by Martial Solal is also worth noting. It’s airy and jazzy and really adds to the ambiance of the film. I’ve heard that some people have watched À bout de souffle solely for that soundtrack, and I can see why. It practically embodies the French New Wave and the free, youthful style of 1960s cinema.
À bout de souffle is simply a film that every film lover needs to watch. It’s significant, it’s iconic, it kicked off the French New Wave. Seberg and Belmondo sizzle against the Parisian backdrop. It has one of the best soundtracks of any film I’ve ever seen. It’s not The Best Film Ever. Hell, it’s not even Godard’s best film. But it’s enjoyable and interesting and worth a watch.