In “Breathless at Fifty , The New Republic ‘s David Thomson suggests that a classic movie really isn’t exactly a classic.
There is a temptation to see Breathless (or A Bout de Souffle ) as the epitome of the New Wave . . . . But if you want the right emblem, youd be better off going to Truffaut (with Les 400 Coups or Tirez sur la Pianiste ). Truffaut loved movies, story-telling, people, and actors. What was always special about Godard was the reticence he felt for all those institutions, an edginess or hostility, a doubt that was always mounting.
. . . it was a warning. It said (even in 1960), Watch out, this game, this entertainment is over. Movie is all used up, and if we repeat it it will turn campand Ill prove it to you by making a picture that is a strong mixture of liberty and . . . contempt. Its the only word.
I saw Breathless in the late seventies and again last year, and both times thought, “You know, it’s not really a very good movie.” It wasn’t much of a story, and even the not-being-really-a-story approach didn’t accomplish much. The critics I’d read seemed to have read into the movie a youthful rebellious romanticism something that always appeals to middle-aged academics and journalists that wasn’t there, and Thomson explains why.
Truffaut’s early movies I’d recommend. He tells stories, though not at the speed or in the style we’re now used to: you have to be interested in the people to see how the story is about them and not just what happens to them and what they do in response. I watched a bunch of them with our sixteen-year-old last year, with only the occasional hitting of the fast forward button, and she really liked them, partly because they did move more slowly and with more attention to character than most of the movies out today.
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