Breathless [Criterion Collection] Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24
- Audio Codec: French LPCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit)
- Subtitles: English
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1
- Studio: Criterion
- Blu-ray Release Date: September 14, 2010
- List Price: $39.95
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
In 1960, Jean-Luc Godard, one of the leading film critics of his generation, released his first feature film, Breathless (À bout de souffle) and launched the French New Wave in cinema. It took France, Hollywood, and the world by storm, breaking the rules of filmmaking and opening up new boundaries of exploration on the big screen. With a story by his friend and fellow critic/filmmaker François Truffaut, Breathless was to be Godard’s most straightforward story; a true gangster genre film that pieced together influences from the director’s love affair with American cinema.
Working on a tight budget and without a standard script, Godard infused a sense of energy, improvisation and realism into the film never before seen on the screen. His actors, the little known Jean-Paul Belmondo and the recent Otto Preminger discovery Jean Seberg would take to the lead roles and become icons through their realistic portrayal of character.
The story, as it is, is about a gangster, Michel Poiccard (Belmondo), who has fled the countryside back to the city after killing a man. The city is Paris, where he has returned to try and seduce a seemingly innocent young American beauty (Seberg) and convince her to run away with him. The authorities are in hot pursuit of him, however, and nothing is what it seems in Godard’s reality. Is Michel’s American as innocent as she seems, or is he a tough guy about to get duped?
With shaky cameras, jump cuts, literary and filmic allusions and jazzy moment, Breathless was like a breath of fresh air. It was the Beat generation folding on itself, exporting itself to France, then returning home to say hello. It alerted Hollywood that films didn’t all have to be canned, planned, plotted, perfect and smooth. Gritty realism, impatient cameras and schizophrenic production could infuse more art into a film than any amount of preparation or money. It may not have changed the world, but it changed cinema forever.
Approved by director of photography Raoul Coutard, this high definition transfer of Breathless was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm original fine-grain master positive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, flicker, and jitter, were manually removed MTIs DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
The transfer is presented on this Criterion Blu-ray release in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio utilizing a 1080p/24 AVC/MPEG-4 encoding. The picture is top-notch. It’s clean, sharp, detailed, with beautiful, stable blacks, great white levels and a pleasingly natural grain structure intact.
The soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical track print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was also attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated audio workstation.
The original mix appears on this release in a true monaural 1.0 configuration as a PCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit) track. The sound is about as good as you can get for a recording of this age and type. Dialogue is full and clean and the film’s lush, jazzy soundtrack sounds warm and rich.
Collectors will be pleased with the overflowing abundance of supplements included with this release of Breathless. Particularly of interest will be the numerous profiles of the filmmaker and stars as well as the beefier than usual booklet with writings from Godard himself.
The supplements provided with this release are:
- Interviews (1.33:1; 1080i/60) — Excerpts from interviews with director Jean-Luc Godard, actors Jean-Peal Belmondo and Jean Seberg, and filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville, recorded for French television between 1960 and 1964:
- Jean-Luc Godard x2
- Jean-Paul Belmondo
- Jean Seberg
- Jean-Pierre Melville
- Coutard and Rissient (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 0:22.29) — In this interview, recorded for the Criterion Collection in 2007, groundbreaking cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who shot fourteen films for Jean-Luc Godard, and celebrated cinephile Pierre Rissient, the assistant director on Breathless, recall practical and personal details from the production of Godard’s first feature film.
- Pennebaker on Breathless (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 0:10.33) — Jean-Luc Godard once described Breathless as “a documentary about Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.” In this interview, recorded for the Criterion Collection in 2007, documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker explores Godard’s statement.
- Jean Seberg (1080i/60; 0:18.57) — After a much-publicized but brief stint in Hollywood, Jean Seberg was selected by Jean-Luc Godard to star in Breathless. It was to become the legendary actress’ best-remembered role. This video essay, created for the Criterion Collection by Mark Rappaport, director of the 1995 film From the Journals iof Jean Seberg, reveals the true story behind her iconic face.
- Breathless as Criticism (1080i/60; 0:11.09) — In this video essay, film historian and author Jonathan Rosenbaum explores a number of the cinematic and literary references in Breathless, analyzing what Jean-Luc Godard meant when he said he approached filmmaking as criticism.
- Chambre 12, Hôtel de Suède (1.78:1; 1080i/60) — In this eighty-minute documentary from 1993, director and popular French television host Claude Ventura tracks down, over nine days, the locations and people involved in the making of Breathless, the program, which includes interviews with actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, filmmaker Claude Chabrol, cinematographer Raoul Coutard, assistant director Pierre Rissient, editor Cécile Decugis, and other members of the cast and crew, is shown here courtesy of StudioCanal.
- Charlotte et son Jules (1.33:1; 1080i/60; 0:12.41) — Before Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard shot a handful of short films, including this one from 1959, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anne Collette. It is presented here courtesy of Les Films du Jeudi.
- Trailer (1080i/60)
- Booklet: Featuring an essay by scholar Dudley Andrew, writings by Godard, François Truffaut’s original treatment, and Godard’s scenario, plus information on the transfer and film credits.
The Definitive Word
See Jean-Luc Godard’s first and, some might argue, greatest masterpiece in an excellent high definition release overseen by his cinematographer, Raoul Coutard; you owe it to yourself.
Additional Screen Captures: