Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Breathless (1960) 50th Anniversary Restoration at the Kendall

Rialto Pictures has been touring a 50th Anniversary Restoration of the classic French New Wave film Breathless (1960) across the United States. I managed to catch the very last showing that took place in the Boston area on Thursday evening. Good friends Kevin and Lisa as well as my beau Carlos came with me to a 9:40 pm showing of the film. A few weeks ago, Kevin had sent me a postcard (that boasted the illustration Yoko Kuomura on it. See above.) invited me to go see the film with him. For some unexplained reason, it passed my notice that two of my favorite theaters, The Brattle and The Coolidge Corner Theater, had both shown the film. Luckily, good ole standby Kendall Square Cinema (a local cinema known for showing Indie and Foreign films as well as the occassional classic) was the last Boston-based cinema to be showing Breathless. We got in just at the nick of time!

The entrance of the Kendall.

Any of you lucky bastards that got to see the US premiere of the restoration at the TCM Classic Film Festival back in April will be familiar with it. However, those of you who missed it have a chance to see the restoration as it tours the US. Rialto has a new 35mm print of the film which has been restored and newly revised English subtitles were added.

Visually, I couldn't tell much of a difference between the restored print I saw on the big screen and the Criterion Collection DVD that I watched with Kevin a while back (I never did do a post about that). Also, I didn't much care for the new subtitles. They were still a very loose translation of the French being spoken in the film. My friend Lisa, who knows some French, pointed out that in one scene Jean Paul Belmondo is actually cursing in French yet the English curse equivalent was not put into the subtitles. Was there perhaps some toning down of the language? Censorship of a film like Breathless is not a matter to be taken lightly. Also, the film was shown with very little fanfare. Not that it should have had an introduction, but I think information about the restoration or something to jazz it up would have been nice.

Still it was great to see Breathless on the big screen. From the little bits of information on the net that I've read, theatrical showings of Breathless have been limited in the past but now Rialto has US theatrical rights to the film. So this truly was a treat!

Kevin and I both love this film and it was Lisa's first time watching it. Carlos, who had seen it before some years ago, was not terribly impressed. In fact, he tried to take a nap during the movie and I threatened him with my classic "don't you dare". He told me afterwards that he couldn't see the genius of the film. I've found that he's not really been able to enjoy the avant-garde French films I've shown him. My recent attempts to get him to appreciate some quirky French fare such as 8 Women (2002) and Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000) failed miserably. I tried to explain to Carlos why Breathless was genius but I don't think he got it. Oh well. No more French films for him!

The genius of Breathless (1960):
  • openness of sexuality, including discussion of the past sexual partners of a single female
  • jump cuts, which we take for granted today but were radically new back in 1960
  • inaugural French New Wave film that has come to be a symbol that represents that genre
  • gritty, in-your-face cinematography. Filming happened on the streets with a hand held camera.
  • extras in the film are real-life bystandards
  • no special lighting was used except for natural light, street lights and the lamps from a model shoot scene.
  • spontaneity of the script development, the shooting and the acting
  • homage to classic film stars and directors, especially Michel's (Jean Paul Belmondo) fascination with Humphrey Bogart
If you are interested in seeing the Restoration for yourself, check out the Rialto website for more information and to see if the print is coming to a city near you.

If you can't see the Restoration for whatever reason, watch it at home with the Criterion Collection set (I still need to buy this!).


  1. You are so lucky to have seen the restored Breathless on the big screen! I love the film. It is one of my favourite films from the noveau vague. I have to admit that I am a bit surprised Carlos doesn't care for the French films of that era. I would have thought they would have been right up his alley!

  2. Great review, Raquel. Sub-titles are always an iffy proposition, tho necessary--I might be able to stumble thru a French film, but what would I make of Kurosawa! I'd love to see the restored version of this. & I may be writing about the nouvelle vague on RFBanjo within the next few days.

  3. I've never seen this film! I've only seen two of Godard's film to date and haven't been entirely won over, yet (in terms of personal enjoyment - definitely appreciate his work from a film history sense). But unlike others, I'm always (well, almost always) willing to give more than one chance.
    -Andi x

  4. Mercurie - I thought so too RE: Carlos. But alas!

    John - I'll watch for your post!

    Andi - At least you are open-minded. Give it a try. It's not for everyone but it's worth watching anyways.

  5. Drop everything and get your hands on Jacques Rivette's "Celine and Julie en vont bateau", also Claude Chabrol's "La Bonnes Femmes".
    I've seen about 50 new wave frenchy's, plus Ital, etc but those two films are diamonds you will discover. That is what's so exciting about these old films - so much to explore from directors who did not have the bottom line as the driving factor.


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