Breathless is the less than perfect translation of the French title of Jean Luc-Godard’s 1960 explosion into the world of international cinema: A Bout de Souffle. Along with Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, which was released a little under a year before, the French New Wave was officially on its way to changing the lexicon of filmmaking. Previous to directing, both Truffaut and Godard had established reputations as critics that challenged much of the traditional and conventional notions of what made a film great. Rejecting the glossy, big-budget, highly polished sheen of the type of Hollywood productions that took home Academy Awards, Godard instead argued that the truly creative artists working within the Hollywood system were those ignored by critics and the studio heads alike. Instead of the high-minded “message movies” and the overbloated production values that marked the Biblical epics and musicals so popular in the 1950s, Godard perceived how it was the filmmaker pretty much left to their own to pursue a personal vision while working on low-budget crime dramas, melodramas and juvie movies who who were exploring the artistic value of the medium to its greatest degree.
Such influences are put on explicit display in Breathless, though in a way that is directly at odds with conventional narrative expectations. For instance, the murder at the center of the film’s narrative is not given the context of meaning and motive that one finds in a Hollywood gangster movie. And to call the main the character a gangster at all makes as much sense as calling him a sailor or a clown; he is the image of a movie gangster that inspired countless millions of similar young men to playact the part of a gangster. The romance barely qualifies for that term, much less the type of love story that would be engaged to offset the violent components. Everything seems thrown together, barely connecting and tenuously holding.
Which is exactly the point. The standard editing of a close-up of one actor following by a close-up the actor they are talking to, familiar transitions between scenes like fade-outs and dissolves and even simple attention to continuity are absent and in that absence is created a new filmmaking language that would eventually become the standard as it was adopted by developed by Hollywood filmmakers who grew up under the influence of Breathless from John Cassavetes to Quentin Tarantino.
Dedicated to Monogram Pictures, a "Poverty Row" low-budget studio that made the type of films in which Godard found the true artistry at work in Hollywood, Breathless was remade as a Hollywood film starring Richard Gere in 1983.