The International Lens: Breathless (dir by Jean-Luc Godard)


The 1960 French film, Breathless, tells the story two people, a French criminal named Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and an American student named Patricia (Jean Seberg).

Michel is a criminal but it’s hard not to like him.  Some of that is due to the fact that he’s played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, a charmingly off-center actor whose confidence and refusal to pretend to be anything other than what he was made him appealing even if he was not exactly handsome.  The other reason why it’s easy to like Michel is because, no matter how many crimes he commits, you get the feeling that he’s just playing a role.  He dresses like he belongs in a 30s gangster movie and a lot of his attitude has obviously been borrowed from Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.  Even the way he smokes a cigarette feels like an affectation.  He’s a kid, playing dress-up.  One almost gets the feeling that he knows he’s a character in a movie and he’s going out of his way to give the audience what they expect.

When we first see Michel, he’s stealing a car.  He drives around the French countryside.  He dismissively observes two hitchhikers.  A few times, he appears to speak directly to the audience.  Is he musing out loud or is he acknowledging that there’s a film camera in the passenger’s seat?  It’s hard to say.  When Michel gets pulled over by a cop, Michel shoots him.  Or does he?  The scene is edited in such a way that it’s hard to say for sure.  Maybe the cameraman shot the cop.  Maybe director Jean-Luc Godard shot the cop.  Not that it matters.  Michel is the one who is now wanted for murder.

With the authorities now determined to catch him and his face in all of the newspapers, Michel flees to Paris.  That’s where his girlfriend, Patricia, lives.  Patricia is an American student who aspires to be a journalist.  She sells copies of the New York Herald Tribune while walking around Paris.  Despite her journalistic ambitions, Patricia does not know that her boyfriend is wanted for murder.  Then again, boyfriend might not be the right word.  That would suggest more of a commitment than either one shows much interest in maintaining.

Michel hides out at Patricia’s apartment and, at one point, Patricia tells Michel that she might be pregnant with his baby.  Michel promptly blames her for not being “careful” and we’re never quite sure if Patricia is telling the truth or not.  While Michel hides out from the police and tries to figure out how to get enough money to flee to Italy, he and Patricia discuss …. things.  (It is a French film, after all.  It’s also a Godard film and, even if this film does feature Godard at his least pretentious, there’s still no way you’re going to get through a Godard film without at least a little conversation about the meaning of life.)  Michel is resigned to the idea of living in the moment and seems to be somewhat death obsessed.  Patricia remains optimistic and looks forward to the future.  Michel complains that Americans always make heroes out of the wrong Frenchmen.

Do Michel and Patricia love each other?  Who knows?  By the end of the film, one of them has betrayed the other and we’re not quite sure why.  One is dead and the other seems oddly ambivalent and rather confused about the whole thing.

One of the seminal works of the French new wave, Breathless was the directorial debut of Jean-Luc Godard, who was working from a story treatment that was originally written by Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol.  When it was first released, Breathless reportedly stunned audience by using techniques — like frequent jump cuts, location shooting, and the use of a handheld camera — that are now so familiar that we take them for granted.  That said, even if Godard’s techniques are no longer shocking, Breathless remains an exciting film to watch.  It’s not just the Michel and Patricia are frequently breathless.  One also gets the feeling that Godard was breathless behind the camera, trying to keep up with the story that he was telling.  This is a film that, much like it’s lead characters, never stops moving.  Indeed, a huge reason why the film’s finale remains powerful is because it’s the first time that anyone in the film truly seems to be still.  The viewer has gotten so used to the film’s frenetic energy that it’s a shock when it all comes to an end.

It’s been written that there are two eras of cinema — pre-Breathless and post-Breathless.  I don’t know if that’s true but it is impossible to watch Breathless and not see what a huge influence it’s had on every crime film that has followed.  Every film about lovers-on-the-run probably owes at least a minor debt to Breathless.  It’s one of those films that you simply have to see, both because of it’s historic importance and also just because it’s a damn good movie.  It’s a film that’s in love with cinema and, by the time things come to a close, you’ll be in love with it too.

Here’s What Won At Cannes 2018!


This year’s strangely low-key Cannes Film Festival has come to a close!  Here’s what won at Cannes this year:

In Competition

Palme d’Or: Shoplifters by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Grand Prix: BlacKkKlansman by Spike Lee
Best Director: Paweł Pawlikowski for Cold War
Best Screenplay:
Alice Rohrwacher for Happy as Lazzaro
Jafar Panahi for 3 Faces
Best Actress: Samal Yeslyamova for Ayka
Best Actor: Marcello Fonte for Dogman
Jury Prize: Capernaum by Nadine Labaki
Special Palme d’Or: Jean-Luc Godard

Un Certain Regard

Un Certain Regard Award: Border by Ali Abbasi
Un Certain Regard Jury Prize: The Dead and the Others by João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora
Un Certain Regard Award for Best Director: Sergei Loznitsa for Donbass
Un Certain Regard Jury Award for Best Performance: Victor Polster for Girl
Un Certain Regard Award for Best Screenplay: Meryem Benm’Barek-Aloïsi for Sofia

Cinéfondation

First Prize: The Summer of the Electric Lion by Diego Céspedes
Second Prize:
Calendar by Igor Poplauhin
The Storms in Our Blood by Shen Di
Third Prize: Inanimate by Lucia Bulgheroni

The question that we ask every year is whether the Cannes Film Festival will have any effect on the Oscar race.  We especially ask that whenever an American film wins the Palme d’Or or an American or British performer takes home one of the acting prizes.  This year, BlacKkKlansman was the highest rewarded American film, though it didn’t pick up the Palme.  That said, even if it didn’t win the top prize, BlacKkKlansman did receive rapturous reviews, certainly enough justify it’s current status as a possible Oscar nominee.

So, in the end — who knows?

4 Shots From 4 Films: À bout de souffle, Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution, Made In U.S.A., and Tout Va Bien


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films.  As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Happy birthday, Jean-Luc Godard!

4 Shots From 4 Films

 À bout de souffle (1960, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

À bout de souffle (1960, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Made in U.S.A. (1966, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Made in U.S.A. (1966, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Tout Va Bien (1972, directed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin)

Tout Va Bien (1972, directed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Contempt, Made in USA, Two or Three Things I Know About Her, Weekend


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films.  As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Last night, I had a choice.  I could either watch the Jean-Luc Godard film festival on TCM or I could watch reality TV.

I ended up picking reality TV.

*sigh*

Consider this latest edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films to be a part of my atonement.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Contempt (1963. directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Contempt (1963. directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Made in USA (1966, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Made in USA (1966, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Weekend (1967, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Weekend (1967, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Inland Empire, Borgman, A Field In England, Goodbye to Language


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films.  As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Inland Empire (2006, dir by David Lynch)

Inland Empire (2006, dir by David Lynch)

Borgman (2013, dir by  Alex van Warmerdam)

Borgman (2013, dir by Alex van Warmerdam)

A Field in England (2013, dir by Ben Wheatley)

A Field in England (2013, dir by Ben Wheatley)

Goodbye to Language (2014, dir by Jean-Luc Godard)

Goodbye to Language (2014, dir by Jean-Luc Godard)

The National Society Of Film Critics Honors Goodbye to Language!


Goodbye to Lanugage

Earlier today, the National Society of Film Critics announced their picks for the best films of 2014!  By one vote, they named Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye To Language as best picture of the year.

Thank you, National Society of Film Critics, for reminding us that, occasionally, unexpected things do happen!

Check out the winners and the runner-ups below!

BEST PICTURE
*1. Goodbye to Language 25 (Jean-Luc Godard)
2. Boyhood 24 (Richard Linklater)
3. Birdman 10 (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
3. Mr. Turner 10 (Mike Leigh)
BEST DIRECTOR
*1. Richard Linklater 36 (Boyhood)
2. Jean-Luc Godard 17  (Goodbye to Language)
3. Mike Leigh 12 (Mr. Turner)
BEST NON-FICTION FILM
*1. Citizenfour 56 (Laura Poitras)
2. National Gallery 19 (Frederick Wiseman)
3. The Overnighters 17 (Jesse Moss)
BEST SCREENPLAY
*1. The Grand Budapest Hotel 24 (Wes Anderson)
2. Inherent Vice 15 (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. Birdman 15 (four co-writers)
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
*1. Mr. Turner 33 (Dick Pope)
2. The Immigrant 27 (Darius Khondji)
3. Goodbye to Language 9 (Fabrice Aragno)
BEST ACTOR
*1.Timothy Spall 31 (Mr. Turner)
2. Tom Hardy 10 (Locke)
3. Joaquin Phoenix 9  (Inherent Vice)
3. Ralph Fiennes 9 (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
BEST ACTRESS
*1. Marion Cotillard  80 (Two Days, One Night)
2.  Julianne Moore 35 (Still Alice)
3. Scarlett Johansson 21 (Lucy; Under the Skin)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
*1. J.K. Simmons 24  (Whiplash)
2. Mark Ruffalo 21 (Foxcatcher)
3. Edward Norton 16 (Birdman)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
*1. Patricia Arquette 26 (Boyhood)
2. Agata Kulesza 18 (Ida)
3. Rene Russo 9 (Nightcrawler)

Here Are The Winners of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival


Winter Sleep

It’s debatable what type of effect a victory of Cannes will have when it comes to the Oscars.  Indeed, because of the festival’s international nature, it’s often the case that some of the most acclaimed films at Cannes aren’t even eligible to be nominated.  Blue Is The Warmest Colour was one of the best films to released in the United States last year but its victory at Cannes certainly did not translate into Oscar nominations.  However, at the same time, there’s probably some truth to the theory that winning the Palme d’Or allowed some of the more mainstream-minded Academy voters to consider The Tree of Life as a legitimate Oscar possibility, as opposed to just an art house indulgence.

So, in other words — who knows?

One thing is for sure.  Winning at Cannes will definitely not hurt the Oscar chances of Bennett Miller, Timothy Spall, and Julianne Moore.  In fact, the only film that truly seems to have been knocked out of Oscar consideration by its Cannes reception would appear to be Grace of Monaco(Well, okay — Lost River, too.  But was anyone expecting Lost River to be an Oscar nominee before it premiered at Cannes?)

Anyway, enough of me pretending to be an expert on how the Oscars work!  Here are the winners from Cannes:

In Competition

  • Palme d’Or – Winter Sleep by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
  • Grand Prix – The Wonders by Alice Rohrwacher
  • Best Director – Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher
  • Best Screenplay – Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin for Leviathan
  • Best Actress – Julianne Moore for Maps to the Stars
  • Best Actor – Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner
  • Jury Prize – Mommy by Xavier Dolan and Goodbye to Language by Jean-Luc Godard
Un Certain Regard[39]
  • Un Certain Regard Award – White God by Kornél Mundruczó
  • Un Certain Regard Jury Prize – Force Majeure by Ruben Östlund
  • Un Certain Regard Special Prize – The Salt of the Earth by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado
  • Un Certain Regard Ensemble Prize – The cast of Party Girl
  • Un Certain Regard Award for Best Actor – David Gulpilil for Charlie’s Country
Cinéfondation[40]
  • First Prize – Skunk by Annie Silverstein
  • Second Prize – Oh Lucy! by Atsuko Hirayanagi
  • Third Prize – Sourdough by Fulvio Risuleo and The Bigger Picture by Daisy Jacobs
Golden Camera
  • Caméra d’Or – Party Girl by Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis
Short Films[41]
  • Short Film Palme d’Or – Leidi by Simón Mesa Soto
  • Special Mention:
    • Aïssa by Clément Trehin-Lalanne
    • Yes We Love by Hallvar Witzø

Goodbye to Lanugage

Can You Figure Out The Trailer For Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language?


Jean-Luc Godard, that iconic and frustrating pioneer of the French New Wave, has a new film.  Goodbye to Language is 70 minutes long and it’s in 3D.  Knowing Godard (but does anyone really know Godard?), it’s probably going to be a film that’s going to be loved by many and hated by even more.

Goodbye to Language premiered at Cannes yesterday and, perhaps surprisingly given Godard’s lack of concern with traditional narrative, much of the response has been both positive and baffled.  Speaking as someone who hasn’t seen the film but who is somewhat familiar with some of Godard’s films, I think the best review so far was posted by A.A. Dowd over at the A.V. Club.  (Dowd also makes a very important point about why it is necessary to properly reflect on a film before passing judgment and why so many other critics fail to do just that.  Seriously, read the article.)  Dowd usually gives letter grades to the films that he reviews.  For Goodbye to Language, his grade is “?????”

All of this, needless to say, makes me very much want to see Goodbye to Language for myself.  Though I haven’t been able to find a release date, the film is apparently being distributed by 20th Century Fox so maybe it will eventually make its way over here to the States.  (That said, I’m a bit worried that even if it does, it will only be shown in New York and Los Angeles and will never make down to my part of the country.  There seems to be an elitist belief that people in middle America aren’t interested in seeing the latest from Jean-Luc Godard and, unfortunately, that’s probably true…)

But until it does, here’s the NSFW trailer for Goodbye to Language.  Can you figure out what’s going on?  I can’t and I speak French.  But that impenetrability is a part of what makes me want to see the film.

And here’s a version of the trailer with English subtitles.

Scenes I Love: Weekend (dir. by Jean-Luc Godard)


As you may or may not know, I’ve been on a road trip with my very good friend Jeff since Monday of last week. 

That seems like as good an excuse as any to highlight this legendary 7-minute track shot (without any cuts) from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film WeekendWeekend, by the way, was probably the last worthwhile film made by Godard before he became just another irrelevant Marxist with a film crew.

I have to admit that this scene takes some patience if you’re not familiar with Godard’s 1960s aesthetic but let me ask you this?  Do you love me?  If you love me, you’ll watch this scene and stick with it to the end.  The punch line isn’t totally unexpected but it does rank as one of Godard’s most effective attacks on the bourgeois value system.

Film Review: Midnight in Paris (dir. by Woody Allen)


Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, has an appealing premise behind it. 

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood screenwriter who has come to Paris with his shallow fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her stuffy Republican parents (played by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy).  Disillusioned with American culture, Gil idealizes the Paris of the 1920s, the Paris that was home to Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce.  However, Inez and her parents are far less impressed with Paris and, as quickly become clear, with Gil himself.  While Inez spends her time with self-important “intellectual” Paul (a bearded Michael Sheen), Gil takes to wandering the streets of Paris at night.

One night, as Gil wanders around Paris, a vintage car approaches out of the shadows and the two well-dressed passengers in the back seat invite Gil to join them.  Gil does so and discovers that he’s been transported back to 1920s Paris.  He meets everyone from Hemingway (Corey Stoll) to Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) to F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill).  At the end of the night, Gil finds himself transported back to modern-day Paris.  Soon, Gil finds himself sneaking out at midnight every night so he can escape to the past, where he eventually meets and starts to romance an idealistic model named Adrianna (Marion Cotillard).  While Gil finds himself torn between his modern life and the past that he loves, he also begins to discover that the inhabitants of the 20s feel the same way about their present as he does about his.

The premise of the film itself is likable and one that I think anyone can relate to.  Who doesn’t wish that they could go back in the past and live with all the amazing people who they’ve only read about?  Myself, there are many eras that I often fantasize about finding myself in.  1920s Paris is definitely one of them but I’ve also occasionally dreamed of being in 1950s New York, having a threesome with Kerouac and Cassady or maybe being in Paris during the early days of the French new wave, appearing in movies directed by Rollin, Truffaut and Godard.  Ever since I read Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders and Raging Bulls, there’s been a part of me that wishes so much I could have been out in Hollywood or New York in the 1970s, hanging out on the beach with directors like Martin Scorsese, William Freidkin, Jon Milius, and even Peter Bogdonavich.  (But especially Freidkin, his terrible charisma just radiates from the page.) 

Still, Allen is smart enough as a screenwriter to know that everyone tends to idealizes the past, even those who we now idealize in the present.  Perhaps my favorite part of the film came when Wilson, while in the 1920s, sees a character getting into a horse-drawn carriage so that she can go back to the time that she idealizes as fiercely as he idealizes the 20s.

Midnight in Paris has a lot to recommend it.  Cotillard, despite the fact that she’s played the same idealized French mystery woman about a thousand times, gives a likeable performance and Rachel McAdams is hilariously shallow.  Michael Sheen, as well, makes a perfect stand-in for every pompous, self-important jerk who has ever talked down to you.  On the basis of his cameo appearance here as Dali, Adrien Brody really needs to consider doing more comedy.  He’s a lot more appealing when he’s being funny than when he’s trying to be a leading man.

At the same time, I have to admit that I wanted to like Midnight in Paris more than I actually did.  I like Owen Wilson as both an actor and a writer but he’s a little bit miscast here and the end result is that he occasionally seems like he’s trying too hard.  You just never buy him and McAdams as a couple and, as such, there’s really not much at stake as far as his romance with Cotillard is concerned. 

As well, I found it hard not to be a little bit disappointed with the way Allen presented 1920s Paris.  Though they were all well-cast and acted, Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), and all the rest just fell flat as actual characters.  Gil gets a chance to go into the past and essentially, he discovers that Hemingway was macho, the Fitzgeralds were neurotic and self-destructive, and that Dali didn’t make much sense.  Personally, I would be a bit let down if I got a chance to meet these icons and I discovered that essentially they just acted the exact same way that they acted in various PBS educational programs.

Despite this, Midnight in Paris is still a likable, frequently engaging comedy that works best as a tribute to a legendary and beautiful city that Allen (not to mention myself) obviously loves.  Flaws and all, this movie made me want to visit Paris once again (though Florence and Venice remains my favorite cities of all time) and, for that reason alone, it makes Midnight in Paris a film worth seeing.