À bout de soufflé

Director: Jean-Luc Godard



“Whether through accident or design, Godard’s low-budget, on-the-fly shooting style produced remarkable innovations.” (370, Adrian Martin, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

sjff_01_img0006I first watched À bout de soufflé  for my film degree as part of the history of film module. And it turns out that while I cannot speak any French I can actually understand an awful lot of it, meaning that I didn’t have to rely wholly on the subtitles in order to follow the narrative. I still watch À bout de soufflé  in my spare time even all these years after being a little Fresher at university and enjoy it every time.

It’s true that not very much happens in the narrative but really that is kind of beside the points. It’s not so much what is actually happening in the narrative that makes the film so memorable but rather how that action was captured and conveyed. It was indeed groundbreaking in the visual cues especially with the choices of cuts in editing.

The jump cuts were kind of ahead of their time and created an instantly recognizable aesthetic and rhythm to the film, even if they are somewhat jarring the first time you watch the film. I love that the film is in black and white – I think it enhances that feeling of Parisian chic that is very much an identifying tone of the film.  

There s a definite James Dean air to Michel – the tragic anti-hero – and he plays the part perfectly. He completely sees himself as a hero of the silver screen despite in reality being a petty criminal. On the other hand the female lead irritates me as she lacks any depth or identity away from the protagonist. Despite being the focal point for Michel she brings very little to the film. You cannot deny that she manages to look ‘tres chic‘ effortlessly though and not just the typical Parisian chic but coupled with the super stylish simplicity of the 1960s.

“Eschewing direct sound recording and using total postsynchronization not only led to an Orson Welles-style speed and inventiveness in the dialogue delivery, it also paved the way for a radical sound mix in which one can no longer spot the difference between ‘real’ sound happening within the story and sound imposed by the filmmaker.” (370)

While the  aesthetic of the film is, a sI have said before, instantly recognizable I think the reason I keep returning to À bout de soufflé over the years is the language. I love just listening to it. The dialogue is wonderfully fast paced as expected with French and there is a beauty to the language when spoken naturally that lures me back every year or so (generally after our annual holiday in France when suffering from withdrawal systems!)

À bout de soufflé is probably my favourite foreign language film – it’s certainly the one, of a very few foreign language films in my dvd collection, that gets watched multiple times.