Sunday, December 9, 2007

Qu'est ce que c'est déguelasse?

Man travels to Paris to reclaim money and tell a girl he wants to sleep with her because he’s actually in love but because he thinks he's as tough as Bogart he can't tell her that straight. A carjacking leads to a shootout, he kills a policeman and drives off addressing dialogues directly to the camera. Reaching Paris, he meets Jean Seberg, looking fantastic in a New York Herald Tribune T-shirt and the best movie haircut until Juliette Binoche in Blue, and playing hard to get. He spends the next hour or so trying to extract money from an associate and also get the girl into bed. Bed is where they spend an inordinately long twenty minutes talking, Patricia teasing Michel, who displays the amazing patience shown by men with sex on their minds. Later, the director leads the police to their quarry, we watch with frozen disbelief as the neon news tickers flash warnings 'Arrest of Michel Poiccard imminent'. Is this a joke? Yes and no. The man is gunned down, and Seberg, complicit in his death, utters the weirdest last line of any movie before or since, variously translated as "What's a louse?" or "What's a bitch?" or "What is puke?" (the last being the Criterion Collection translation, which should be accepted as the definitive one, simply out of pure gratitude for the fact that Criterion exists at all).

Even with Tennyson there to remind me that jump cut piled on jump cut were all too little, I must admit that they do not do much for me. Its not like I'm opposed to innovation for its own sake, as long as it is accompanied by a punk attitude and a desire to overturn things as they currently stand. What endures from Breathless finally is not the technique, which has become de rigueur through imitation – but details like Belmondo’s performance, a fore-runner of other talkative, flawed leads like Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy. Or the obsessive cinephilia – Bogart movie references, roles for Truffaut, Godard, Melville - a trend which Tarantino reprised three decades later. Or the impression that the final cut leaves - always self-aware, never self-conscious - no matter how many risks it takes along the way. Or how we get Paris as we’d like to imagine it – classy and dangerous, teeming with scheming charmers and broad-minded girls and other low-life. And that haircut.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

baby, you rite so well.