Michel lies in the street, bleeding from a bullet wound in the back, he speaks softly to his once lover Patricia. He mutters with his last dying breath, “You make me want to puke.” She follows this with a reoccurring theme in the movie and asks what he says. This is the conclusion of Jean-Luc Godard’s visually revolutionary picture Breathless. The movie follows Michel, a sociopath who treats the real world like he was playing the video game Grand Theft Auto, who searches for meaning with the American Patricia. In many ways Breathless is about a series of errors that arise from the miscommunication of the two.
Michel has a great appreciation for American culture and the new world, but does not completely understand it. Michel’s idol is that of American cultural icon, Humphrey Bogart. Given I have only seen him in Casablanca, Bogart had a style that is cool, charming, and slightly dangerous. Michel tries to emulate this to an extreme level, that it becomes treacherous. He misidentifies with this American Icon, focusing on the danger and seduction rather than the humanity of the persona. Michel’s fascination with America can be seen in his love of Patricia. Patricia is an American in Paris who has not fully adapted to French culture. She works for an American paper, speaks with an American accent, and does not always understand idioms. Although Michel has other women in his life, for some reason he falls for Patricia. Most likely he is attracted to her American ways. He says there are prettier people, but he still loves her more than them. Instead of running away to safety, he stays to try and convince her to follow. Of course the romance was doomed from the start. His reluctance to go to Italy can be seen in his identification with the new world. If America is the new world then Italy, the site of the Roman Empire, is the physical representation of the European old world.
The quick cuts in the film add to the films feel of miscommunication. Often in the middle of dialogue people will change positions and is confusing to the viewer. There is a definite feeling of discontent with the picture and dialogue, and makes it harder to follow the conversation thread. While it draws attention to the fact that you are watching a movie, this visual technique in editing is effective in communicating the language barrio of the two characters.