I actually kept up with all the plot confusion, so better write this down while I still remember it. Thief Maurice (Serge Reggiani, would-be star of Clouzot’s Inferno) kills and robs his fence/friend Gilbert (Rene Lefevre, Monsieur Lange in The Crime of Monsieur Lange), goes home to girlfriend Therese, hangs out with friends Silien and Jean, then gets caught robbing a house the next night, kills a cop who knew Silien and Gilbert, and gets arrested for both killings, neither of which can be proven.
From another POV (with a few holes), as soon as Maurice leaves Therese’s house robbery, buddy Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo, one of three Melville movies he did between Breathless and Pierrot Le Fou) runs in, ties up Therese (smacking her around first) and asks her where the robbery is taking place. Cops cars arrive just as Maurice’s partner has started drilling the safe – the partner and the cop are killed, and Maurice faints with a bullet wound, picked up by persons unknown in a car. Belmondo visits the police station, a known informer, and offers to call around the bars looking for Maurice – they catch him in one, and he’s arrested. Meanwhile, Therese turns up dead in her car at the bottom of a ravine. Looks like Belmondo has locked up Maurice for offing his cop friend, and killed his girlfriend too. On top of that, Belmondo finds the buried jewels, cash and gun from the Gilbert killing (Maurice had left Therese a map, in case anything happened to him). In jail, Maurice (who’s as much the star of the movie as the over-the-title-credited Belmondo) hires a dude to kill Belmondo once they get out.
But Belmondo turns out to be a true friend who’s extremely good at covering for Maurice’s crimes. Belmondo killed the girl for ratting, saved Maurice at the scene of the heist, met up with his own ex-girl (Fabienne Dali of Kill Baby, Kill) and used the jewels to frame Michel Piccoli for the murder(s). So all is well… or it would be, but Maurice remembers that he’s got a hit man after his friend, so he races to Belmondo’s house and everybody gets killed.
So much twisty plot going on, I barely noticed anything else. Seemed like one of Melville’s more busy, exciting films.
It’s the 50th anniversary of Breathless! It’s also the 50th anniversary of Peeping Tom and Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, but you don’t see anyone making a fuss over those. It’s also the 50th anniversary of writer Truffaut’s other movie about doomed small-time criminals, Shoot the Piano Player. I don’t know which of the two I prefer. StPP has more indelible images, but Breathless is all about motion, with its jazzy editing. Feels like a story that got away from them, a two hour script filmed as a four-hour feature, then mercilessly reduced to 90 minutes.
I didn’t remember the story very well – not that there’s much story to worry about. Belmondo is an incorrigible cad, stealing from everyone he comes across, and Seberg is the conflicted girl who becomes his downfall, reporting him for having killed a cop at the start of the film. He stops to meet with friends (always trying to get money) and she stops to interview a writer (I think) played by Jean-Pierre Melville, part of her ambition to climb from street newspaper-seller to reporter, while a police inspector is always close behind them both.
Good to see on the big screen, a highly enjoyable classic-film experience. Nice to hear from the DVD interviews that just a couple years after Breathless came out, Godard was already talking about the end of cinema – it’s not a recent thing with him.
Sooooo bleak. Not the normal kind of resistance movie. Their struggle is necessary but hopeless. Movie opens with our main guy escaping from a camp, then having the guy who ratted on him killed. Many small triumphs and large defeats later, we end with the gang shooting one of their own then driving away as the titles tell us how each of them later got killed in the struggle.
Hardly any non-diegetic music, superbly shot, dark and dreary but not in a tiring way, more of a matter-of-fact “this is how things are” straightforward way.
These are not heroes in the regular movie sense of the word. Theirs is not a glorious fight… it’s hardly a fight at all, more a struggle for survival. The problem is that it would be easier to survive by living ordinary lives, by cooperating with the nazi regime, by ratting on their fellows, by doing any of a number of things they refuse to do, by giving in. The movie is about how much it can suck to be moral, to stick to your convictions. While those in the resistance who survived the war can’t have much to be proud of… unlike most residents of their country, they also can’t have much to be ashamed of. A great, great movie. Nice contrast to the portrait of resistance to nazi occupation in Black Book this year.