Jean-Luc Godard Takes Cannes’ Rejection of Breathless in Stride in 1960 Interview

It will sur­prise no one famil­iar with Jean-Luc Godard and his mas­ter­piece Breath­less (À bout de souf­fle) that the film and its direc­tor were invit­ed to the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val in 1960, months after the movie’s release. Maybe more sur­pris­ing is that Breath­less was­n’t actu­al­ly screened at the fes­ti­val at all, but at a the­ater near­by on the Rue d’Antibes, and it did not win any awards. (The Palme d’Or that year went to Fed­eri­co Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. In the inter­view above, Godard—looking both poised and a lit­tle annoyed—fields ques­tions from a slight­ly obnox­ious reporter about the exclu­sion of Breath­less and his rep­u­ta­tion as a trou­ble­mak­er.

Despite the Cannes slight, there was no lack of acco­lades for the film and its direc­tor that year. Breath­less won the 1960 Prix Jean Vigo, and Godard was named Best Direc­tor at the Berlin Film Fes­ti­val. Devel­oped from a true-crime sketch by Godard­’s fel­low New Wave direc­tor François Truf­faut, Breath­less rev­o­lu­tion­ized French film in the 60s, giv­ing rise to French New Wave cin­e­ma. And it sparked sim­i­lar “new waves” inter­na­tion­al­ly, direct­ly inspir­ing the grit­ty 70s films by Amer­i­can upstarts Bri­an de Pal­ma, Mar­tin Scors­ese, and Den­nis Hop­per. The film’s lead, Jean-Paul Bel­mon­do, would go on to mega-star­dom in French cin­e­ma, and he received Cannes’ high­est hon­or for his per­for­mance in Breath­less more than 50 years after the film’s release. Sad­ly, Breathless’s female lead Jean Seberg com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1979. In a short inter­view below, also from 1960, she dis­cuss­es her roles in Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan and Godard’s Breath­less.

The mer­cu­r­ial Godard—who, now in his eight­ies, provoca­tive­ly declares that “film is over”—was ini­tial­ly inspired by rad­i­cal Marx­ist pol­i­tics, and he con­sid­ered his work an avant-garde reac­tion against the mori­bund “Tra­di­tion of Qual­i­ty” in French film­mak­ing. Breath­less was made on a low bud­get and shot entire­ly with an Éclair Came­flex hand-held cam­era to approx­i­mate a doc­u­men­tary style—commonplace today in film and tele­vi­sion, but in 1960, it made a unique aes­thet­ic state­ment.

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  • Breath­less did not give rise to French New Wave cin­e­ma. That already exist­ed before the film was made (there was even an arti­cle pub­lished in Jan­u­ary 1960 say­ing that the New Wave was already dead.
    Godard was not ‘ini­tial­ly inspired by rad­i­cal Marx­ist pol­i­tics’. If any­thing he was a right-wing anar­chist when he made Breath­less.

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