French-Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard died Tuesday at the age of 91. A pioneer of the French New Wave movement, Godard is perhaps best known for his 1960 film Breathless, which stars Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Godard first broke into the world of cinema as a critic for Cahiers du Cinéma, the magazine founded by theorist and director André Bazin. As a director, Godard brought his study of film history and criticism with him as he upended traditions of cinema.
Godard first cast Belmondo in his 1958 short film, Charlotte and Her Boyfriend. For Breathless, his first feature-length film, Godard cast Belmondo as the alluring criminal Michel opposite Seberg as the American journalist Patricia. Godard famously filmed Breathless in 23 days on the streets of Paris, without any permits or a script.
Though created with unassuming methods, in Breathless, Godard calls back to American film noir and Hollywood stars such as Humphrey Bogart, to whom Belmondo’s character aspires. Perhaps most famous for its early use of the jump cut and unforgettable final sequence, Breathless experienced immediate success, helped usher in the French New Wave movement, and is widely regarded as one of the best films ever made.
As critic Richard Brody has reported, Godard called Breathless “a documentary about Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.” Less about narrative and more about performance within the medium of film, 60 years later, Belmondo and Seberg’s performances live on in their iconic style, nuanced expression, and defiance of Hollywood’s narrative and resolution-oriented conventions.
Godard’s work as a director and Belmondo’s work as an actor jointly offer keen reminders of the power of cinema to upend expectations and inspire a generation of filmmakers, critics, and cinephiles across the world.
Belmondo experienced widespread success and acted in two more of Godard’s films as well as other French New Wave works. He died last September. Tickets for the screening of Breathless, along with the other films included in the Belmondo Retrospective Festival, can be purchased here.