(Directed by Jean-Luc Godard) (1960) (Adelaide French Film Festival, 25 March 2021)
“Roughly speaking, the subject will be the story of a boy who thinks of death and of a girl who doesn’t.” So said the Director, and that is not a bad summary of a shallow but hip tale of ne’er-do-well Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a Humphrey Bogart wannabe who is more like James Dean, acting like the poor kid In the Ghetto (of Marseilles): he borrows a gun, and steals a car, [and shoots a cop], and he tries to run but he don’t get far…Needing cash to fund his escape to Rome (at least he has great taste in cities), he shacks up with Patricia (Jean Seberg in an appropriately fey and throwaway performance, in which her Mia Farrow haircut, vacuous expressions and wonky smile are the stars). After countless slurpy jump cuts and several tantrums by Michel (taxi drivers beware!), she turns him in to the police, by which time he’s fed up with running, and dies on a Paris street, “à bout de souffle.”
The film was a big success at the time for its frenetic pace, cigarette-chomping, car-thieving, cool detachment, nihilism, narcissism, glib cultural references with several pointless Gallic flourishes, and disavowment of conventional story-telling. Belmondo holds it together in a charismatic performance that makes no concession to amiability, matched by Seberg in a role closer to Badlands than Bonnie and Clyde. The casual construction of the piece paved the way, for a time, to a new style or cinema (it ran out of puff fairly soon). It was good to see this on the big screen at the Adelaide French Film Festival, but the wildly uneven, jazzy soundtrack was set at far too many decibels.