French Revival: 'Breathless' at AFI Silver

July 7, 2010

It’s hard to believe that “Breathless” is 50 years old. When Jean-Luc Godard first lobbed this lean, cerebral, mischievous grenade of crime, fatalism and movie love at theaters, it was shocking in every way.

It remains no less shocking today. The warp-speed jump-cutting, the deceptively distracted camerawork that seemed to take in all of Paris while revealing the characters’ psychologies, the sense of doom that was as noirish as any shadowy thriller, but here set amid the triumphal monuments of Paris’ hoariest tourist spots, and in bright day, no less — it’s still bizarre, too fast, too thinky, too talky and altogether too much. The thing’s even in black and white, for crying out loud.

AFI Silver celebrates Godard’s seminal and still most famous film with a one-week run of a spruced-up “Breathless.” The film’s director of photography, Raoul Coutard, supervised the meticulous restoration of a negative template for new, gorgeous 35 mm prints, the most complete and laudible restoration “Breathless” has ever received.

But wait — there’s more. This version features new subtitles as well, ones that drill deep into the nuances of Godard’s script, with its passion for books, movies and culture.

What’s it about, you ask? An American girl at loose ends in Paris; a petty French thug trying to rush headlong to his doom; cops, cars; the complete overhaul of cinema as we know it — the usual stuff.

And to jaded cineastes for whom “Breathless” is just another movie, well, they can always enjoy the sight of lovely Jean Seberg and ravishingly jolie-laid Jean-Paul Belmondo as they stroll amid Paris’ most lavish sights. That ought to be enough.

» AFI Silver, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring; opens Fri.; 301-495-6700. (Silver Spring)

Photo courtesy AFI

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express · July 7, 2010