Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

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, you’d 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 camp—and I’ll prove it to you by making a picture that is a strong mixture of liberty and . . . contempt.” It’s 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.

Warning: There’s one very rude word in the article and at least one more in the comments.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles