One of the defining films of the French New Wave, Jean Luc Goddard’s Breathless is a picture of the irrationality of the youth culture. The film follows the obnoxious Michel on his adventures to collect the money owed to him, evade apprehension by the police and entrap the stubborn independent American girl Patricia to run away with him to Rome.
Through Michel Goddard shows the youth’s self-consummation through the media. At the film’s opening in the car that Michel has stolen he finds a revolver in the glove compartment. Playing up the image of the gangster he hunches over the steering wheel uttering, “Bang, Bang!” as he drives along the country road. Moments later when cop pulls up behind him, Michel shoots him dead with the same revolver. The connection to cinematic influences are made apparent throughout the film through the enigmatic film score by Martial Solal that echo the intriguing nuances of the classic film noirs out of classic Hollywood. Michel himself is constantly trying to channel Humphrey Bogart. In one scene in the film he stands in the street staring at the star’s headshot, smoking and dragging this thumb across his lip in mimicry.
Patricia the object of Michel’s desire is an independent American student studying and working simultaneously in Paris. Like Michel she is a free spirit. The way Michel will leave on girl on the pier or steal money from another from under the nose in her apartment, Patricia will also use the men around her to her advantage. She takes a lunch meeting with a journalist who is promising her a story and makes out with him in his car directly after. When she attends a press conference for a famous writer she allows the writer to disregard all her questions and flirt directly with her. Patricia fluctuates between the working-woman in the pants like when she is trying to sell copies of The New York Harold Tribune on the streets of Paris or when she wants to use her feminine wiles to her advantage over men when she is in the Dior dress.
When Patricia discovers the full extent of Michel’s entanglement with the police, she appears to go on the run with him at first, even saying goodbye to the journalist that same night in a café. The morning after they have safely stayed the night in a hideout she goes out on the pretext of getting groceries and informs to the police where Michel is. When she returns to the apartment she confesses to Michel what she has done. The only explanation she can offer him is that she did what she did only in order to prove to herself that she did not love him.
Faced with betrayal Michel succumbs to the death of a tragic hero. Refusing to run off with his friend when the money is delivered. Michel stumbles down the street as the police arrive on the scene and open fire. In the end Michel refuses all rational alternatives and chooses to take on the death of a tragic hero. Patricia’s betrayal is perhaps reflexive of her need to be independent of men. In the end she stands over Michel as he dies unmoved.
The reckless youths of Michel and Patricia overlap in Breathless for a brief interlude only to part ways through an unfortunate turn of events. Perhaps Goddard is trying to show that the youth’s obsession with characters from popular media, are mere attempts to fulfill the writer’s ambition: “to become immortal and then to die”. Goddard’s subtle premise for the future of an irrational youth.