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My Affinity for Jean-Luc Godard and Breathless (1960). And Ramblings on Feminism.

January 7, 2014

breathlessposterThere are three films I credit as The Holy Trinity in my cinematic upbringing. Out of the hundreds of films that my brain has processed, three remain locked away in a devout section of my heart for opening my eyes to the art form of cinema: Fernando Méirelles’ City of God, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. These films were among the first to affect me on a deeply profound level. Not only did these films possess remarkable performances and stories, but for the first time I had become aware of any given film’s narrative, the lighting, it’s editing techniques, and of its social importance. All of these elements transformed movie watching from a passive experience to an increasingly active one ripe with emotions and metaphysical contemplation. (On a related note: this New York Times article on the brain while reading fiction.)

I was awe-struck after initially seeing Breathless nearly 10 years ago. I inadvertently became a slightly different person afterwards; wiser, more sincere, more aware. I wasn’t quite sure why, but I wanted to become Patricia Franchini. “Patricia Fran-cheenee,” a character whose mere name brings a tingle to my lips. Far from perfect, Patricia’s mystique lies in her complexities and her own struggle to keep her goals in perspective. Breathless owes much of its air of refined equanimity to lead actors Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg whom molded their characters into admiralty despite their indecisive, selfish, and at times despicable behaviors. Yet, ultimately its Godard’s visual eye and framework that allows us to see these characters at their most vulnerable and honest. This is why both Michel and Patricia have managed to stand the test of time as iconic figures.


Breathless patiently follows the simple tale of a French criminal attempting to flee the country with his American lover in tow. It presents Patricia, a French-speaking, American, as a diamond in the rough, a rare breed of woman not typically seen in films of or before the era. Godard paints a woman of raw feminism, one that is dependent only on herself and equal to those around her. She’s sexually independent, choosing to have casual sex free of judgment or shame. She’s headstrong and career minded. Yet, like all women, Patricia is bound by the restraints of her biology and the society around her. She laments to a co-worker at one point saying, “I don’t know if I’m unhappy because I’m not free, or if I’m not free because I’m unhappy.” Still, the weight of a possible abortion doesn’t keep Patricia from staying in control of her life and steering in the direction of her choice. She doesn’t get weighed down in emotional or frivolous “what ifs.” She continues to live life unafraid and unflinching. Patricia doesn’t fear being considered unattractive by others, nor is she apprehensive about being hated or talked bad about. She’s a woman of self-love and self-respect demanding the same from others. She even repeatedly slaps Michel in the face when he attempts to peek under her dress. Seberg’s unaffected, nonchalant demeanor gives Patricia a distinct, inspiring realness.

I only recently realized that after all these years I’ve been striving to become Patricia Franchini. I’ve longed to travel the world, speak multiple languages, throw caution to the wind, fall in love, break hearts, mend my own, then move on. I long to continuously enrich myself through reading and writing, talking to intellectuals, and asking thought-provoking questions. I want to contemplate the nuances of life with poise and confidence even when I’m not poised and confident in the least. I want to roam the planet in a pair of flats, braless, and free.


My endeavors have been to be the woman that films pre-1960 said didn’t necessarily exist. Godard didn’t just introduce the world to a new form of narrative and editing when he created Breathless, thus helping usher in the French New Wave. He introduced the world to a new type of woman. One that had become virtually silenced after the Depression. A flapper of sorts. Through Patricia Franchini, Godard presented audiences a type of woman whose representation would come later in the decade after the publication of The Feminine Mystique and in the birth of the hippie. A woman who still faces difficulty being represented and respected to this day. A woman that I relate to.

Recently while discussing a Godard film on a feminism blog, I instinctively blurted out that Godard was a pioneer in feminism. In all honesty, I don’t know if that comment holds any weight. Godard’s foray into filmmaking began as an attempt to challenge the conventions and traditions of Hollywood and French cinema resulting in his directorial debut, Breathless. As he continued to create more films, Godard’s themes became heavily entrenched in Marxism and politics, so it’s likely that his character development in later films lacked any substance or depth as a result. However, because I adamantly love and admire Godard as a filmmaker and activist, I have chosen to use this month as a period to delve into his films, particularly his major works in the 60s and their take on femininity. I can only hope that Patricia Franchini is just the start of a long line of empowered women being represented as equals at a time when women weren’t.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Joc permalink
    January 8, 2014 2:47 PM

    I absolutely love your analyses here, Toyiah! Breathless definitely had a profound emotional impact on me as well, and I had never considered the feminist elements of the film until reading this. Truly insightful post. I love that you keep this blog. You truly have a gift.

    • January 8, 2014 8:18 PM

      Awww thank you Joc, that truly (it’s such an expressive word!) means a lot coming from you. Honestly, I love your writing so it makes my day to hear positive words from you!

  2. Joc permalink
    January 8, 2014 2:48 PM

    I realize that I said truly twice in two sentences, but I truly mean it! haha


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