Thursday, June 17, 2010


Jean Luc Godard's Breathless is playing at the local Ritz theater, in a remastered print released in honor of the film's 50th anniversary.

Of all things, this is what stood out to me: Patricia (Jean Seberg) is interviewing a famous novelist. She's young, inexperienced as a reporter. The other journalists are shooting questions at this writer, played by Jean Pierre Melville, and Patricia tries to keep up. She calls out the writer's name several times, finally getting to ask her question: What is your greatest ambition in life? He looks at her, but does not answer her question. Several more shots of Patricia, eating her pen, looking pensive. She calls out another question, he answers in a flirtatious way: "if she is charming and wears a striped dress." She finally gets to ask her original question again: "What is your greatest ambition?" He looks at her, pensive, and answers: "To become immortal/and then to die."

Melville's response stood out to me for this simple simple (superficial) reason: it's a line in an early Divine Comedy song, "When the Lights Go Out All Over Europe."

It's dumb to be writing about this, but I love it when, years and years later, I pick up on an allusion in one of his songs.

Back to the line, though. Is it even worth thinking over? Maybe not: on the surface, here it is, young Godard's first film. What is it he wants? To make films, to be remembered: then he can die. But why have the accomplished writer ignore the question at first only to answer it later? Admittedly, the question is a novice question, asked by a young woman just starting as a reporter. The writer could have continued to ignore it, but he doesn't. He delivers the line, removing his sunglasses as he does, and the film cuts to Patricia, also removing her glasses and turning to face the camera with a terrified expression spreading over her face.

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