I saw A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) en plein air on the Jardin des Champs-Elysées Saturday night.
It reminded me of something I haven’t thought of in a while: Growing up in Florida, I used to read whatever pseudo-cultural fare I could get my hands on at the 7-Eleven (Vogue, Vanity Fair), and when a classic French film was mentioned, I would jot down the name, inquire at my local Blockbuster, and the same thing would always happen: The employee would sadly tell me that this film was not in stock. At which point I would shrug and rent She’s Out of Control one more time.
I guess I half figured I wouldn't like New Wave films. Or I figured that if I liked them, it would be for the same reasons I love the pristine design of les Jardins du Luxembourg or French doctors who smoke cigarettes. Because they would be so typically French, so unable to conceive of anywhere else.
And so, dear reader, I'm happy to announce that 15 years later, I've finally come to discover that these films are actually, like, good. You heard it here first!
In Breathless, Jean Seberg says, "I don’t know if I’m free because I’m sad, or if I’m sad because I’m free," a line that would surely sound Zach Braffy in any other context.
Witness the dramatic futility of Belmondo’s death, punctuated with a confusing, "C’est dégueulasse." (His girlfriend? The situation? WHAT?)
I love all these things. In fact, the experience of watching Breathless is only slightly diminished by one truc, and it is something for which I cannot fault Godard or the French New Wave:
If you are an American who speaks French, it is crushingly painful to listen to another American speaking French for two hours. When Seberg says "Ca fait poule" you hear that slight linger on the "ou", that extra half second that shows that she’s struggling a tiny bit to get it right, and you cringe. Because it’s exactly how you say it. Probably better.
And you just KNOW if this were real life and they didn’t have cars to steal and police inspectors to escape, Belmondo would take a puff of his cigarette, look at her from under his fedora, shake his finger and say, "No, no Patricia. "Ca fait poule. Ou, OU, poule."
And she would say, "Poule, pouuuuule."
And he would say "Mais no! POULE, POOULE."
And then there would inevitably be the part where he laughs, and cruelly imitates the way that she says it, maybe throwing in something like "Qu’est ce qu'ils sont con les américains." And when he says it the correct way, it would sound EXACTLY THE SAME TO MY AND PATRICIA'S EARS.
And that, that is dégueulasse.