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Breathless Movie Review

jean seberg godard career

Iowa-born Jean Seberg was only 17 years old when director Otto Preminger chose her to play the title role in Saint Joan. It was a spectacular way to launch a career and her subsequent failure in the film was equally spectacular; Saint Joan was chosen as the worst movie of the century by the Harvard Lampoon. Preminger gave her another chance with Bonjour Tristesse, but Deborah Kerr attracted most of the critical attention for that Françoise Sagan adaptation. Seberg's career could have ended right there had she not been cast in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless. All the things about Seberg that had seemed so out of place in splashy American movies were just right in this fast-paced New Wave film from the year 1959. Suddenly, her skin-deep qualities seemed mysterious, part of a larger phenomenon, and the less emotional understanding she brought to her interpretation of an essentially thoughtless young waif, the better. Or so it seemed at the time when Breathless was first released. In fact, when Seberg stares blankly into the camera after her lover calls her a little bitch and says, “A little what? I don't understand,” it is her very lack of expression that haunts me today. Breathless is perhaps the most enjoyable of Godard's films (it didn't hurt that François Truffaut collaborated on the script) and it turned Jean-Paul Belmondo, then 26, into an overnight star. Seberg's career received a much-needed boost and she made dozens of international films over the next 18 years. Seberg's naivete was genuine: she took her life in 1979 after being hounded by the F.B.I. for her involvement with the Black Panthers. She once admitted that she had neither the will nor the way to cope with Hollywood pressures and added, “I don't think any healthy, well-balanced person would want to become an actress.” She projected youth, health, and a superficial version of happiness in Breathless, which may well leave today's audiences out of breath. AKA: À Bout de Souffle.

1959 90m/B FR Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, Daniel Boulanger, Jean-Pierre Melville, Liliane Robin; D: Jean-Luc Godard; W: Jean-Luc Godard; C: Raoul Coutard; M: Martial Solal. Berlin International Film Festival ‘60: Best Director (Godard). VHS

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