SPOILER ALERT | Source
A little bit of historical context is needed to fully appreciate Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. This has been my third viewing of the film and, thanks to the fact that it is also one of the most celebrated products of the French New Wave, I am now more equipped to see the film beyond the literal sense.
One thing that bothered me the first time I saw it was the brush-the-lip gesture Michel (Jean Paul Belmondo) kept doing all throughout the movie. Apparently it was a nod to Hollywood actor Humphrey Bogart who is vital to the development of the protagonist’s character. Michel, a man on the run for shooting a police officer, is trying to emulate the charisma and bad-assery of Bogart known for his roles in iconic movies such as Casablanca.
Humphrey Bogart | Screenshot
Without recognizing who Bogart is and the fact that he’s American while Michel is obviously French, one could get easily lost in the cultural significance of Breathless. It was made following a pact between France and the US which opened the French market for American products including cultural creations such as movies. Breathless, then, becomes not only a demonstration of technical innovation in film-making but also an exploration of a nation’s identity during the early stages of American cultural imperialism.