‘Breathless’ – American style with Richard Gere

I’m still not sure if it was an inspired or a terribly misguided idea to remake Jean-Luc Godard’s debut feature, a French nouvelle vague classic of outlaw cinema in every sense of the word. Godard made his splash by defying conventions and announcing a fresh, energetic, new approach to telling stories on screen and a criminal anti-hero who revered American gangster icons and seduces an American girl. The story was less important than the style and attitude.

More than twenty years later, Breathless (1983) from director Jim McBride and co-writer L.M. Kit Carson relocates the story from Paris to Los Angeles and swaps the nationalities of the characters: the two-bit thief is now a callow American (Richard Gere) who loves Jerry Lee Lewis and “The Silver Surfer” comic book and the girl (Valérie Kaprisky) a French exchange student at USC. He kills a cop (accidentally?) and tries to lure her into running off with him to Mexico, after he collects his share of a robbery, as the police close in on him.



McBride and Carson try to find their own approach to the fugitive lovers on the run picture, updating it with oversaturated colors, a high-energy soundtrack of classic rock and contemporary punk rock songs, and lots of steamy sex and nudity. Gere is quite good as the narcissistic, emotionally immature, not-too-bright hood but Kaprisky struggles to make an impression beyond her beauty (and her willingness to get naked in scene after scene).

It never captures the zeitgeist of its era the way Godard’s original did and it’s in no way revolutionary or essential, but seeing it again now, decades years after it was made and more than 50 years after Godard’s original, it is surprisingly entertaining and interesting on its own terms, a romantic reflection of its cinematic era of neon and music video aesthetics and hot, steamy erotic scenes.

Rated R

On Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Breathless [Blu-ray]
Breathless [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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