The film genre of French New Wave brought many new ideas to the table, and challenged the techniques of classic Hollywood cinema, not just recreating something that has been done, but doing something new with it. Breathless (1960) is in many ways the antithesis of classical Hollywood cinema; the changes have a direct effect on the relationship the film has with the viewer. Classical Hollywood cinema includes standards such as continuity editing, highly motivated, character-driven stories and a coherent narrative structure. Breathless defies these elements of traditional filmmaking, instead defining what we know as French New Wave.
From its opening scene Breathless breaks convention. Michel Poiccard, the main character in the film, is seen at the beginning but given no introduction. He is simply standing outside reading a newspaper, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. There is a woman in the scene, whose name is never mentioned and never shows up in the movie again. They make constant eye contact as if trying to communicate something to one another. It turns out that the woman appears to be acting as a decoy, distracting a police officer so Michel can steal a car. The scene ends with the woman saying goodbye to him, and she is never seen again. A scene such as this one would rarely be seen in Hollywood cinema. In a Hollywood film, if a connection is established between a man and a woman early on, the film’s audience is almost always aware of the characters’ names, identities and motivations, and the couple will usually have interaction with one another throughout the course of the rest of the narrative.
The characters are a crucial element in developing the narrative of a film. The characters in Breathless do not act the way one expects those of Hollywood cinema to act. The woman who distracts the police officer in the opening scene seems as if she may be important, but is in fact never seen again. This happens again in a subsequent scene, when Michel goes to visit another woman at her apartment. He asks her to get breakfast with him as she is getting ready for work, but she is running late and leaves. He does not interact with her again in the film, making it difficult for the audience to understand the relationships between characters.
Breathless strays even further from the expectations of classical Hollywood cinema in the scene after Michel steals the car. The scene consists of Michel driving in the car and making observations on what’s going on around him. He is repeatedly commenting on things as if he were being filmed at that very moment. He makes vague allusions to what he is doing—going to Paris and meeting a young woman—but his goals and motivations are never clearly defined. So, while it is obvious that Michel has some goals just as the main character in a Hollywood film would, the goals are unclear and do not really move the story along, as one would expect them to.
One of the most obvious things about the first scene...