The film is presented in 1.33:1 and encoded via AVC MPEG-4. Criterion have done the honours before with Breathless, but I have no idea how well their Blu-ray transfer compares to this region-free version. Before the film starts, we are told that the film's DOP Raoul Coutard has personally authorised and overseen this 2K hi-def treatment, and that the timing is all correct by his standards. So this means that we have to accept this transfer as being as authentic and as faithful as it can be.
To this end, we have a very fine image that is detailed and clean, boasting strong blacks and a fine contrast. Whites do bloom, but this is something that I feel certain is down to the original source. Damage to the print is in evidence, with patches of contrast bursts and fades here and there, though what there is has to be expected and, being honest, all quite minimal. Grain is untouched by DNR and reveals a fine, cinematically “worn” texture. It does fluctuate, however, with some shots becoming quite festooned with the stuff. Some people have claimed that the image can look a touch noisy in places, but I wasn't bothered by this.
Detail in faces – Seberg's little marks and moles, Belmondo's massively thick lips and broken, Daniel Craig-like nose – is great. Clothing and material comes across with clarity too. But it is, perhaps, the cobbles on the streets, the branches in the trees, the signs in the windows, the newspaper headlines and the cups and glasses on the tables outside of cafés in which the disc displays the most pleasing attributes. Depth is not extravagant, but there are some shots that look downward upon our characters from high up, or views from the centre of the street that linger quite marvellously upon the receding buildings and vehicles that populate the frame, that manage to deliver a fair amount of image spatiality. It can sometimes be the case that these details – those found in the buildings and boutiques that carry on into the distance, say - appear to soften and blur, almost as though they are being affected by a very slight mist, but the transfer does well with background delineation on the whole.
Fast action and panning may yield some very slight shimmering and a small element of aliasing but, once again, this is really neither here nor there with regards to what comes across as a very strong image. Really, I did not know what to expect from this transfer, and whilst it is definitely not on a par with, say, Last Year At Marienbad, Breathless still looks great to me.
Studio Canal's disc presents the film's original French dual-mono track in DTS-HD MA. I don't have any other version of the film, so I cannot compare the quality of this audio delivery to how it has sounded before. But this does sound very good to me. The track is clear, crisp and punchy. The jazzy score from Martial Solal is bright and warm and effervescent – which is exactly the way it is supposed to be. The dialogue is presented with clarity and volume and the subtle variances of intonation. Belmondo can be sharp and caustic, whilst Seberg is light, airy and happily spontaneous. Speech does drop down low on a few occasions – whispers, sighs and spoken thoughts etc – but the transfer copes admirably during such moments and there are no occasions when dialogue is not easily and pleasantly discernable.
It goes without saying that this track is limited in range and offers little in the way of dynamics. The couple of gunshots that we hear are slight and whimsical, the revving of engines and the squeal of tyres, likewise. But this is a smart and accurate-sounding audio track that comes over well and certainly helps the film to ooze with style. I'm saying 6 out of 10, but I'm sure this sits only just beneath a 7 ... all things considered.
Optimum and Studio Canal present A Bout De Souffle with a ravishing package and selection of extras. For a start, the eye-catching slipcase gives way to an elegantly book that houses the disc on one side and an informative illustrated booklet secreted in the other side. This 20-page booklet contains intelligent notes on the film and on Godard, himself, from journalist Yves Alion, as well as a selection of contemporary praise and comment from the critics for this cinematic Zeitgeist.The disc features an introduction to the film from Godard expert Colin McCabe, which lasts for just under five minutes and endeavours to set the scene for it in terms of historical and cultural impact.
A new feature is the fifty-minute Godard, Made In USA. This is an interesting documentary that attempts to dissect Godard's complex love/hate relationship with Hollywood and the films, and their creators that had an influence upon him. It also takes us on a tour of the film's locations to assess their relevance and see how they have changed over the years. But the documentary then allows people like William Friedkin and Steven Soderburgh (there are others too, but no-one is actually credited!) an opportunity to explain their fascination with what Godard achieved in the larger field of cinema, paying attention to other productions as well as Breathless, and supplying some insight into the influence of the French New Wave, as a whole cultural phenomenon.
Then we have a terrific retrospective documentary that sees the original cast and crew revisit the Parisian streets, cafés and even the bedroom location of the famous love scene before it was actually demolished, in “Room 12, Hotel de Suede”. This serves as a fine making of that reconstructs how the film came to be, from script stage to final cut, with plenty of anecdote and insight into the style of the shoot and the attitudes adopted. With interviews conducted over the phone, or in the backs of cars, or walking along streets or corridors, this has a unique feel to it. Shot in black and white and boasting little sessions with Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo, this is a very fitting companion-piece to the main film.
Jean-Luc According To Luc is a short film from Luc Moullet produced as a homage to Godard. Running for 8.30 minutes, this was culled from a TV show segment that Godard's long-time friend had put together.
There is a very good Photo Gallery that offers posters and a great selection of gorgeous stills. Plus, we get the film's Theatrical Trailer.
Finally, the disc is BD-Live enabled.
A triumph of style over substance, and a veritable spearhead of the Nouvelle Vague, Breathless may be, but Godard's cultural trendsetter is still very much a creature of its time. The attitudes are cool and modern, but shot through with a sort of dark fatalism that is also refreshingly beautific. The characters are effortlessly boho-chic and dedicated to upsetting the apple-cart and the action is bluffed and blustered through a dangerously iconic fractured narrative that frustrates and beguiles at the same time. Ultra low-budget it may have been, but Godard's insistence upon visual distinction ensure the film a lasting and luminous appeal. This is the Paris of romance, but this is not the romance that Paris tends to capture. Once again, as is so often the case, we are siding with the devil and even if Jean-Paul Belmondo never shies away from Michel's unsavoury character, we can't help but run with him on his doomed odyssey through a city that is changing around him. And if that flight is in the company of crop-topped Jean Seberg at her absolute sexiest, then we can put up with his tantrums and violence so much easier.
The classic film gets terrific treatment from Studio Canal, who provide a sterling transfer and a fine selection of bonus material, all housed in a delightful slipcase and book-jacket that does this 50th Anniversary Edition justice.
It is impossible to argue with the legions of critics who shower this film with praise, even if it took me a couple of attempts to find that inner magic, so Breathless, or A Bout De Souffle, gets a very strong recommendation from me.
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