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BREAKING THE RULES
A Bout de Souffle (DVD)
Member Name: MrQuomps
A Bout de Souffle (DVD)
Disadvantages: French (pmsl)
There are plenty of straight forward film reviews for this, so here is another angle.
The film has the look of a documentary; this is largely due to the use of lightweight hand-held cameras. These cameras, usually used for television, gave more mobility that made shooting on location a lot easier, as well as cheaper and quicker.
A distinctive feature of the French New Wave films is location shooting on the streets of Paris.
Where Classical Hollywood Cinema strictly adhered to the principles of continuity editing; 180░ rule, 30░ rule, shot/reverse shot etc. The French New Wave directors disregarded these rules in favour of long, fluid tracking shots, montage sequences and (most notably in A Bout de Souffle) the jump cut.
The scene in A Bout de Souffle where Michel and Patricia are walking down the Champs ElisÚ is a good example of the shot/reverse shot technique being rejected in favour of a smooth tracking shot with the couple both in frame. This, along with the films lack of establishing shots, prevents us from identifying too closely with the characters.
The most radical of these forms of editing though must be the jump cut, this is where there is a visible jump on the screen due to two shots of the same situation being cut together when the camera has been moved less than 30░ between shots or the camera has remained in the same position and some action between the two shots has been cut out.
A classic example would be the scene near the beginning of the film where Michel is driving along in a stolen car talking to himself. Although the dialogue remains continuous the images are broken up with jump cuts, so we only see certain sections of his journey. This leaves us confused as the audio contradicts the visual; the soundtrack flows on as periods of time are clearly removed on the screen.
This use of discontinuity editing draws attention to the camera and the editing, known as foregrounding. Where Hollywood would try to hide the editing, make it transparent, the French New Wave directors made it obvious; constantly reminding the viewer they are watching a film.
In A Bout de Souffle there are points when both Michel and Patricia look directly at the camera, fictional characters appearing to acknowledge the audience.
One of the key moments in A Bout de Souffle as far as the narrative is concerned is when Michel shoots a police officer. This scene moves very quickly from the point when the police motorbike pulls off the road towards Michel to Michel running across a field. Typically Hollywood directors would have dwelled on this crucial piece of action however we see very little other than a few different shots of Michel's arm, the gun and the police officer falling to the ground. By contrast a later scene where Michel and Patricia talk in an apartment for well over 20 minutes, the conversation is irrelevant and the scene adds nothing significant to the narrative.
One of the reasons for the films amateurish and casual look is the use of non-professional and unknown actors. The French New Wave directors sought realism and encouraged improvisation from the actors, though Godard insists the dialogue in A Bout de Souffle was all scripted.
Women were also given roles more central to the narrative.
Aside from the soundtrack being separate from the visual, the dialogue is a key aspect of the film. The use of slang, the playing with words as well as the use of foreign phrases; there are pieces of Spanish, Italian and English interspersed with the French, all marked something fresh. Multiple diegesis: broken up time, broken up language is another identification mark of the French New Wave.
Intertextuality is another recurring theme in French New Wave films. The directors, being critics themselves, were very knowledgeable in their field and made many references to films (and other texts) in their own productions. A Bout de Souffle is no exception to this with many film references, most famously Michel almost modelling himself on Humphrey Bogart.
Ambiguous endings are a feature of French New Wave films that Hollywood filmmakers would avoid. French New Wave directors often had films end with things left uncertain with no definite outcome. Hollywood films, on the other hand would always try and regain a state of equilibrium at the end of the film. Things would have to be rounded off to make the audience feel comfortable with the result. Unpleasure is common in French New Wave films, the viewer is made to feel sad or frustrated. At the same time though there is frequently a dark, cynical humour to the films and often an element of irony.
Often French New Wave films attack the middle classes or authority. They can be morally corrupt and push the boundaries of what is acceptable. Sexual taboos are destroyed and the freedom of the individual is of the utmost importance.
After 1962 the revolutionary methods developed by the French New Wave directors were creeping into mainstream cinema, the core directors started to go their separate ways and what we call the French New Wave came to an end.
Summary: Revolutionary film-making