Breathless (French: À bout de souffle;
literally "at breath's end") is a 1960 French
drama film directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Godard's first feature-length
film is among the inaugural films of the French New Wave.
It was derived from a scenario by fellow New Wave director,
François Truffaut. The film was released the year
after Truffaut's The 400 Blows and Alain Resnais's Hiroshima,
Mon Amour. Together the three films brought international
acclaim to the nouvelle vague. At the time, Breathless attracted
much attention for its bold visual style and the innovative
editing use of jump cuts.
Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a young
petty criminal who models himself on the film persona of
Humphrey Bogart. After stealing a car in Marseille, Michel
shoots a policeman who has followed him onto a country road.
Penniless and on the run from the police, he turns to his
American girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg), a student and
aspiring journalist, who sells the New York Herald Tribune
on the streets of Paris. The ambivalent Patricia unwittingly
hides him while they dally in her apartment as he simultaneously
tries to seduce her and call in a loan to fund their escape
to Italy. At one point, Patricia says she is pregnant with
Michel's child. She learns that Michel is on the run when
questioned by the police. Eventually, she betrays him, but
before the police arrive, she tells Michel what she did.
He is somewhat resigned to a life in prison, and does not
try to escape at first. The police shoot him in the street
and, after a protracted death run, he dies.
Michel's death scene is one of the most iconic scenes in
the film, but the film's final lines of dialogue are the
source of some confusion for English-speaking audiences.
In some translations, it is unclear whether Michel is condemning
Patricia, or alternatively condemning the world in general.
As Patricia and Detective Vital catch up with the dying
Michel, there is the following exchange, according to the
transcript published in Dudley Andrew's book on the film:
MICHEL: C'est vraiment dégueulasse.
PATRICIA: Qu'est ce qu'il a dit?
VITAL: Il a dit que vous êtes vraiment "une dégueulasse".
PATRICIA: Qu'est ce que c'est "dégueulasse"?
In his book, Andrew translates the dialogue thus:
MICHEL: That's really disgusting.
PATRICIA: What did he say?
VITAL: He said, "You are really a bitch."
PATRICIA: What is "déguelasse" [bitch]?
Andrew's translation obscures the subtlety of Vital's misquotation
of Michel; in the original French, it is not clear whether
Vital misquotes him deliberately, or simply mishears. Other
translations have made the possibility that Vital mishears
Michel more apparent. In the English captioning of the 2001
Fox-Lorber Region One DVD, "déguelasse"
is translated as "scumbag", producing the following
MICHEL: It's a real scumbag.
PATRICIA: What did he say?
VITAL: He said, "You're a real scumbag".
PATRICIA: What's a scumbag?
The 2007 Criterion Collection Region One DVD uses a less
literal translation that renders the French into a familiar
MICHEL: Makes me want to puke.
PATRICIA: What did he say?
VITAL: He said you make him want to puke.
PATRICIA: What's that mean, "puke"?
Jean-Paul Belmondo had already appeared
in a few feature films prior to Breathless, but he had no
name recognition outside of France at the time Godard was
planning the film. In order to broaden the film's commercial
appeal, Godard sought out a prominent leading lady who would
be willing to work in his low-budget film. He came to Jean
Seberg through her then-husband, Francois Moreuil, with
whom he had been acquainted. During the production, Seberg
privately questioned Godard's style and wondered if the
film would be commercially viable. After the film's success,
she collaborated with Godard again on the short Le grand
escroc, which revived her Breathless character.
Godard envisaged Breathless as a reportage
(documentary), and tasked cinematographer Raoul Coutard
to shoot the entire movie on a handheld camera, with next
to no lighting. The production was filmed on location
in Paris during the months of August and September in 1959,
using an Eclair Cameflex. Almost the whole film had to be
dubbed in postproduction because of the noisiness of the
Breathless makes numerous references to
films. Michel's constant lip-rubbing is a direct homage
to Humphrey Bogart, a poster of whom Michel gazes at in
one scene and says, "Bogie". Moreover, Patricia
comments on Michel's similarity to Bogart when she tells
him that he is only an image and should say more about himself.
The film includes additional references to many other films.
In one scene, "Bob Montagne" is mentioned, an
apparent reference to the proto-New Wave film Bob le Flambeur
(1955), the title character of which shares the same name.
A few American film posters are seen in the streets, including
Humphrey Bogart's The Harder They Fall and Ten Seconds to
Hell with Jack Palance (who would later work with Godard
on Contempt). Michel and Patricia also attend a screening
of Budd Boetticher's Westbound and she sneaks into a theatre
showing Preminger's film noir, Whirlpool (1949) with Gene
The film also makes reference to Godard's work as a critic
for Cahiers du Cinéma: a woman (uncredited) attempts
to sell a copy of Cahiers to Michel on the street, saying
"Monsieur, do you support youth?" He angrily refuses,
saying "No, I prefer the old."
According to Barbet Schroeder, Godard's original title
for the film was Moi, un blanc ("Me, a white man").
This was in response to a 1958 film by Jean Rouch, entitled
Moi, un noir ("Me, a black man").
Allusions and remakes
Godard's own Pierrot le fou stars the
same actor (Belmondo) and repeats phrases from Breathless
(including "We are all dead men on leave" and
"Allons-y, Alonso"). Otherwise the plot is very
The film A Woman Is a Woman, which was also directed by
Godard and costars Belmondo, includes a reference to Breathless.
At one point, Belmondo's character says he needs to get
home because Breathless is being shown on TV.
In the film, Trafic by Jacques Tati, a young girl named
Maria, who, like Patricia, is also not French, asks "Qu'est-ce
que c'est 'dégueulasse'?" in a casual conversation.
In the Youth in Revolt book series, the film is frequently
mentioned as is Jean-Paul Belmondo. Subsequently, the film
adaption of the novel features multiple references, with
film stills decorating Sheeni's bedroom.
Bernardo Bertolucci utilizes a scene from this film in The
A 1976 film by Amos Poe, Unmade Beds, is an homage to and
parody of Breathless.
An American remake of the same name was made in 1983, starring
Richard Gere and Valérie Kaprisky, directed by Jim
McBride. It is set in California, and the nationalities
of the protagonists are swapped: the man is American and
the woman is French.
In Noah Baumbach's 2005 film The Squid And The Whale, Jeff
Daniels' character, Bernard, takes a fall on the street
and recalls the last scene of the film to his wife, before
being loaded into an ambulance.
In the first scene of the The L Word episode "Luminous",
Mia Kirshner's character, Jenny Schecter, speaks French
and wears a New York Tribune T-shirt in an allusion to Patricia
The Judd Apatow comedy Knocked Up includes a reference to
Breathless, when Ben says that instead of playing paintball
he would rather see the movie at LACMA.
An episode of the TV series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone
Complex lifts several lines from the film, remakes several
scenes, and shows a film reel with the French title on it.
It also mistranslates the William Faulkner quote from the
film and shows a reel of another film by Godard, Alphaville.
Breathless has been available on DVD for
several years in the English-speaking world, in editions
distributed by Fox Lorber in Region 1 and by Optimum Releasing
in Region 2. In both of these releases, the film has a greenish
tinge. This was removed for the Region 1 2-disc release
by the Criterion Collection in 2007, which features a fully-restored
image approved by director of photography, Raoul Coutard.
The 2007 Criterion release is illegal for sale in Quebec,
Canada because it falls under Bill 101's law that prohibits
French films from being released with an English title,
although it has brief sequences in English. Criterion did
not produce a French cover for the DVD release of Breathless.
1960 Prix Jean Vigo
1960 Berlin International Film Festival: Silver Bear for
1961 French Syndicate of Cinema Critics: Critics Award for
The film came 86th in "The Best Films of All Time"
in a Channel 4 vote of 2001.
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Produced by Georges de Beauregard
Written by Jean-Luc Godard
Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo
Music by Martial Solal
Cinematography Raoul Coutard
Editing by Cécile Decugis
Distributed by Films Around the World, Inc.
Release date(s) March 16, 1960 (France)
February 7, 1961 (US)
Running time 87 minutes
Gross revenue $67,464
Jean-Paul Belmondo as Michel Poiccard
Jean Seberg as Patricia Franchini
Daniel Boulanger as Police Inspector Vital
Jean-Pierre Melville as Parvulesco
Jean-Luc Godard as an informer
Roger Hanin as Cal Zombach