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Breathless Messages and Values Notes

November 29, 2010

Download Link: FS5 WORLD CINEMA_New_Waves_Mess+Values_French


Messages and Values

  • In line with both the spirit of the time (the 60’s), and the radical ethos of the filmmakers themselves, the messages and values of Breathless are underpinned by a sense of youthfulness and non-conformity.


  • Michel is a man who has either found it hard to assimilate into society or has no desire to conform to its ways. He is a non-conformist. He doesn’t want to work, so steals, form both strangers and friends, what he needs to get by. He is amoral, feeling no guilt for his actions. This is especially clear in the scene where he steals from a girlfriend in her own room. She is portrayed as vain and slightly dim, so as to position the audience on Michel’s side, despite the corruption of this act. He also seems to feel no guilt for having killed the policeman.
  • He likes to look good, spending some of the money stolen on a new suit. This shows that he takes pride in the way he looks, despite being penniless and on the run.
  • He is self-aware. He tells Patricia that he loves her from the outset. This statement seems dubious in the beginning, yet as the film progresses, the spectator realizes that his feelings are genuine and that he is actually capable of love. This, in a way, mirrors the way in which Michel is portrayed; from arrogant crook/murderer to loveable rogue. At the resolution of the film’s narrative, Michel’s death is an almost tragic event.
  • It is significant that, when the police close in on him, Michel chooses to get caught when he clearly has a chance of getting away. He says he is tired, but is it because the woman he loves is too independant to be with him, and that there is no more point in running away anymore.
  • As a key to the film’s themes, Michel’s character represents the non-conformist spirit and a youthful ideology of cool. The film positions the audience on the side of a character, who tough immoral and at times evil, is likeable for his spontaneous and improvised existence. This makes of Michel almost a symbol for the new wave itself, challenging and pushing the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable.





  • Patricia is, as in all the New Wave Films we have studied, an unconventional woman. She challenges the accepted role of a woman in both her independence and sexual freedom.
  • She is American, which serves both as a nod to Hollywood, and emphasizes her free-spirited nature through virtue of her being in a Foreign country.
  • She is ambitious, unwilling to sacrifice her freedom and desired career for Michel, yet prepared to sleep with an agent, if necessary to further her career.
  • She is also stylish, alternating between ‘cool’ casual and stylish formal dresses.
  • She is instrumental in driving and ultimately resolving the narrative. She is in control of her own destiny. This was unusual for films at the time which usually portrayed women as secondary characters, unimportant in the what action actually takes place. They were usually the reward for the hero at the end. In this case, not only is she not the reward for Michel, but also the source of his downfall in her decision to call the Police.
  • In the Patriarchal society of the time, women who were sexually active or promiscuous tended to portrayed as evil, ‘femme fatale’ types. This is because, in a man’s world, a woman who sleeps with whomever she wants is hard to control and therefore represents a threat to his authority and power over women. Patricia has elements of the femme fatale in her, a type commonly found in the ‘Film Noir’ genre to which Breathless is an homage. However, conventions dictate that the femme fatale should either die horrifically or be locked away into some kind of institution as punishment for her sexual veracity. Patricia does not, an even seems remorseless in the very final shot of the film where she reenacts the lip gesture she shared with Michel. This was another way in the film challenged conventions.




  • Despite the realistic style of the film, Paris is portrayed as glamorous and vibrant. Key scenes take place around the thriving city centre, in places like the Champs Elysees. The city looks like a cultural focal point for the times. This highly one-sided representation contributes, together with Michel and Patricia’s dress senses, to the overall sense of ‘style’ prevalent in Breathless. Indeed, the film has become a style icon, in a similar way to Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, providing the inspiration for countless TV ads and Fashion editorials. The question is if this actually detracts form the content?




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