Blu-ray Review: Breathless (Criterion Collection)

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I hate the idea of saying “My favorite film is…” but if I was to ever attempt to compile a list of a my favorite films Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless would undoubtedly be on it. I knew it just as soon as I watched it for the first time on April 11, 2009. Yes, I remember the day. The story and performances are one thing, but this is a film of mood, atmosphere, ego and music. It’s more of a feeling than anything else and I feel absolute enjoyment just in hearing Martial Solal’s score, coupled with Raoul Coutard’s cinematography and the face of Jean Seberg.

Since my first viewing almost a year-and-a-half ago I’ve now seen eight of Godard’s films and while the likes of Vivre sa vie, Band of Outsiders and Contempt are also films of his I enjoy, Breathless is so far above and beyond there’s hardly room to compare. I went on to purchase the two-disc Criterion DVD edition and have now watched the film countless times leading up to this most recent Criterion Blu-ray release.

Offering nothing new by way of features, this Blu-ray hardly even delivers an improvement in video quality, at least none that I could see. Though it should be mentioned the subtitle appearance is definitely improved and the features are now presented in high-definition, but if you already own the two-disc Criterion edition I see very little reason to upgrade. Criterion’s two-disc edition offered the film on the first disc and the supplements on the second, making for a striking transfer the last time around. Without overwhelmingly improved visuals and no new features it’s hard to suggest you shell out any more money.

However, if you are yet to have this film in your personal collection I urge you to pick it up as soon as possible. Not only is this simply one of the best films I’ve ever seen, the collection of supplemental features on this disc are outstanding.

Best of all is the short Jean Seberg retrospective (a story you won’t want to believe is true after watching the film), Claude Ventura’s excellent 1993 look back at the film Chambre 12, Hôtel de Suède, which includes several interviews and looks at locations used to shoot the film and Jonathan Rosenbaum’s “Breathless as Criticism” feature is excellent if you’re looking for a way to go backward in time to find films that influenced Godard’s New Wave classic.

Archival interviews with Godard, Seberg, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean-Pierre Melville are also included, as well as interviews with Coutard, assistant director Pierre Rissient and filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker (Monterey Pop). Additionally a 1959 short film by Godard featuring Belmondo titled Charlotte et son Jules is included as well as the trailer.

The set is capped off with the same monster 80-page booklet that came with the DVD featuring an essay by scholar Dudley Andrew, writings by Godard, François Truffaut’s original treatment, and Godard’s scenario. If I were to wish this booklet included anything else I would have hoped for translations of some of the letters Godard wrote, which are included in Ventura’s Chambre 12, Hôtel de Suède, as well as some of the iconic images from the set including Coutard in a mail cart shooting candid shots on the Champs-Élysées or the one of him high on the rooftops. Nevertheless, 80 pages is more than any studio would typically dedicate to one of their multi-million dollar blockbusters, which just goes to show what influence this now 50-year-old film has had on the world of cinema.

If you’re looking to break into the world of French New Wave or simply looking for a good starting point for classic foreign films you could hardly go wrong with Breathless. It’s got everything and then some and Criterion’s presentation is top notch. If you already own the two-disc DVD edition then you are good to go. If not the Blu-ray is certainly the best option for newcomers as the film and supplements are now included on one disc and you get the ever-so slightly improved picture quality.

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