By: Mandy Keifetz
August 25, 2023

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of reconsidered passions, reassessed hates, and reversed feelings everywhere in-between. Series edited by Adam McGovern.



In the revival theaters of eighties New York, Breathless (A Bout de Souffle, Godard 1960) was occasionally paired with one of the forties Hollywood noir classics to which it paid homage. More often, it was paired with Jules and Jim or Hiroshima Mon Amour. Whatever movie it was paired with, two things were certain: there’d be a creepy old guy masturbating in the next seat, and I’d be there. Not because I loved Breathless — although man o man did I — but because I was always there. Revival double-bill after school comprised most of my identity.

Like Godard, I was besotted with the fedoras, private detectives, cigarettes, wire and glass office doors, bootleg hooch, washed-up boxers, perverse villains, and Black Mask plot twists. Like Godard, I was drawn by the exaggerations and V-Effekt of the German expressionists. The reflexive winks of Breathless — like when star Jean-Paul Belmondo mocks the Cahiers du Cinema, or when Jean-Pierre Melville plays a pompous ass, or when Godard himself sings Belmondo to his rest — thrilled me.

Unlike Godard, though, in 1980, I was, just barely, a teenage girl. I loved the classic noirs — still do — the way people love their gods. That aesthetic still informs my every choice. But there ain’t much in those movies for an angry young woman.

The Hollywood noir, with its soundstage polish, lacked the choppy pace, handheld camera, and DIY ethos of the global moment. This is where Breathless comes in. I was a sucker for Breathless. Remember that its grammar, born of its tiny budget, and now so familiar to everyone, was brand-new at the time. The infamous jump cuts and real-life street scenes of Paris in 1959 reverberated right through me. And Jean Seberg, with her short, short hair, and curious lack of affect, even when she turns her lover in, was someone I could get with. Here, finally, was a black-and-white chick I wanted to be.

And now, with many jump cuts, we skip decades. Did I move to Paris? You bet I did, there to continue my habit of seeing all the movies. I didn’t fall in with a gangster, but I was in a deeply weird throuple which, you will have to admit, is a much finer way to go Nouvelle Vague than fucking a two-bit conman, however prettily he may rub his thumb over his lips. Did I then move back to the East Village, at its most iconic? Again, yes. And then to Montréal, where at my local, a filthy Greek dive, they called me the American Novelist? Check.

But in 2010, when it had been 50 years since Breathless was released, I was back in Brooklyn. I had a delightful infant girl, and I took her with me to see the gorgeous new golden anniversary 35mm print at the Film Forum. Breathless is a very different movie when you are a grown-up, nursing an infant in the Film Forum, and this is because, though it never says so in any of the famous essays about the revolutionary nature of this film, we learn 24 minutes into the movie that Jean Seberg’s character is pregnant.

That I did not make note of this until my umpteenth viewing of the movie astonishes me now. It is, to a nursing mother in the Film Forum, the only character motivation with any legs, and the only plot point of any relevance. Patricia Franchini is 20, and a New Yorker alone in Paris, and is pregnant. Her accent is appalling, and so vulnerable. As an adult, I can see nothing romantic about this situation, and nothing hot about Belmondo, who is dumb as a rock and not even good at crime. Breathless, which shaped my life, is as it turns out, a children’s movie. Patricia is no gun moll, but a scared kid in a bad situation. I hope she left Paris after dropping the dime on Michel.

Everyone has to, eventually.


CURVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Tom Nealon on PIZZA PURISM | Holly Interlandi on BOY BANDS | Heather Quinlan on THE ’86 METS | Whitney Matheson on THE SMITHS | Bishakh Som on SUMMER | Jeff Lewonczyk on WHOLE BELLY CLAMS | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER | Nikhil Singh on LOVE ISLAND UK | Adrienne Crew on CILANTRO | Adam McGovern on MISSING PERSONS | Art Wallace on UFOs | Fran Pado on LIVERWURST | Lynn Peril on ELTON JOHN’S GREATEST HITS | Marlon Stern Lopez on ADOLESCENT REBELLION | Juan Gonzalez on STAN & JACK or JACK & STAN | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on BALTIMORE | Josh Glenn on FOOTLOOSE | Annie Nocenti on SIDEVIEW MIRROR | Mandy Keifetz on BREATHLESS | Brian Berger on HARRY CREWS | Ronald Wimberly on GAMING AND DATING | Michele Carlo on HERITAGE FOODS | Gabriela Pedranti on MADONNA | Ingrid Schorr on MAXFIELD PARRISH AND SUE LEWIN | Mariane Cara on ORANGE.