Jean-Luc Godard Arlene Croce - Essay

Arlene Croce

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Breathless shows what the modern French version of [la nouvelle vague] really looks like, and the result is one of the most genuinely novel films of the lot. As parody, it is as subtly intellectual as [Robert Aldrich's] Kiss Me Deadly was exaggeratedly visceral; as improvisation, it is as unified and witty as [John Huston's] Beat the Devil was chaotic and arch; and as an example of new-wave camp, it is a beaut….

The principle of novelty, in Breathless, lies in its acceptance of an exhausted genre—the Hollywood grade-B crime film—as a simulacrum of reality. Its plot is little more than that of the quickie digest: Footloose Killer on the Run Tangles with Double-dealing Broad as Cops Close In—Big Paris Manhunt. These mediocre clichés are played out in the deadpan style of an actualité, producing a dual impression of great moral wit and intense neurotic despair. The term "romantic nihilism" which critics have applied to many of the new-wave films and to Breathless in particular is apt enough. But the trouble with it is that it tends to make a generalizing cultural analysis of what are essentially cinematic fun and games….

Breathless accomplishes much that is necessary for our present. Classic parallels are uncovered in the commonplace and are witty beyond any since Cocteau's own historic rummagings on behalf of another generation. (p. 54)

Breathless is a mannerist fantasy, cinematic jazz. Watching it, one can hardly avoid the feeling that Godard's intention, above all, was to produce slices of cinema—shots, figments, iconography—what the...

(The entire section is 687 words.)