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A Bout de Souffle (#ABC17)

It’s Monday, and we’re in the 2nd week of the April Blogging Challenge. As you may have guessed from the French in the title it’s my turn for the topic, which is Favourite International Films (non-US or UK).

Those who know me well know that my favourite film of all time is a film by Sergio Leone, but it’s an American production so what’s next in my highly educated snob’s cinematic life is the Nouvelle Vague. Among the films of the movement, my favourite is beyond doubt what the English-speaking audience will recognise as Breathless.

It revolves around a young criminal obsessed with Humphrey Bogart, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, and his affair with a young American girl, played by Jean Seberg. It’s loosely based on a real life couple, but the story is nothing compared to the cinematography. It just serves as an excuse for what is a work of art in itself. Some films just tell stories, but other films are mostly there to be looked at.

The films of the Nouvelle Vague obviously aspired to the latter. Every author has a signature way of making films. There is also not really a protagonist in the traditional way. In many respects, places are characters in their own right in these films. The low-budget inspired creative ways of using the camera, which was mixed to a desire for realism inherited by the Italian neorealism (a movement with great films like Bicycle Thieves), but the end result was in fact a visual representation of existential philosophy.

In no film of the movement this is more evident than in Breathless, whose final scene is perhaps even iconic of this tendency to present a resigned acceptance of the absurdity of human existence, including a dose of dry humour. Improvisation and dramatic jump cuts to what was filmed, in the style of Hitchcock, in one long take (film used to be quite expensive) are all ingredients that make this film as interesting as it’s been found since its release in 1960.

For me, personally, there is both an element of knowing and loving Paris as well as my youth’s desire for a life beyond the constraint of what was considered acceptable in the way I really like to watch this film over and over. In a way similar to the experience depicted in Midnight in Paris there is a sense in which the artsy scene of the Rive Gauche resonates with me, especially as I was at 18 when I was looking for an identity that was genuinely mine. Politics was not exactly much of a concern, as the rest of the artsy worldview was, which is pretty ironic to think about 10 years later, when most of my life revolves around politics and I’m much less adventurous than I used to be (growing up, eh?).

Sometimes I feel like I wish I could experience being that way again, even for a little why. Maybe I should dress the part, in a striped t-shirt and a-line skirt and my signature flats, a beret and red lips, and maybe swapping my sunglasses for one of my late grandmother’s pairs, and just stroll around Paris one Saturday afternoon and see how that feels…
Alas, I won’t be able to randomly go to Paris for some time, I’m left with watching old films in old London. It could be worse, I guess…

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