Formal Analysis

This is the scene from Breathless (1960) where Michel Poiccard drives a stolen car, eventually murders a cop and then runs away early in the movie. For the first couple of shots, Michel is just driving while making comments. He says “Nothing like the countryside” and “I really like France”. At this point we don’t know who he is speaking to- he could be speaking to himself. In the next shot, there is about a two second pause and then Michel turns and looks directly into the camera, and starts to have a conversation with the audience. It is here where we really get to know him through his subsequent high jinks and run in with the law.

This scene is delivered through direct address, jump cuts and a handheld camera. These three aspects in the scene make it impossible to watch it without noticing the blatant materiality. When Michel directly addresses the audience, it completely reminds us that there is a camera there if even the character notices its presence. It in a way “breaks the illusion” of the film that we normally get absorbed into. The jump cuts don’t transition smoothly at all, making it harshly discontinuous and highly noticeable. Therefore, one could not help but think of the editing process. By using a handheld camera, the movement of the actual frame cannot be avoided. Thus, the viewer instantly recognizes that someone is holding a camera that we happen to be looking through.

These techniques make the audience feel weird, unnatural and possibly awkward because of these unorthodox methods. For example, when Michel directly looks and speaks to the camera, there is about a 2 second pause before it, which makes the address more surprising. This plus the omnipresence of jump cuts make almost the entire scene force materiality upon the viewer. What is interesting, though, is that these peculiar techniques change our perspective of film and it feels as if we are in the car with Michel; conversating and horsing around. It is because of these peculiar techniques that we are able to learn about Michel on a more personable level.

By this I mean that this scene essentially establishes Michel’s character. Because we are aware of the materiality, we feel as if we were present through these techniques and therefore we feel closer to Michel. We learn a lot about his character in the car: he is immature, rebellious, impulsive and borders on the sociopathic. Michel was characterized as someone who stands out by will of the filmmaker(s), in my opinion.

The materiality the viewer notices is important to the characterization of Michel. By using odd techniques to expose materiality, the audience can get a better understanding of Michel (when he is goofing around in the car as we watch him in the passenger seat). This emphasis on Michel is an extension of the filmmakers themselves. Being part of this new movement, they wanted to stand out just as Michel’s wild character did. The filmmakers wanted to epitomize the New Wave as rebellious and maybe a little crazy, breaking from the tradition of literary adaptations and theatrical performances. So, the filmmakers characterize Michel as unique, fresh, and exciting (similar to their new critic-perspective of film) through these techniques revealing a possible ulterior motive.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

2 Responses to “Formal Analysis”

  1. Amy Herzog Says:

    Your observations are absolutely spot on, Jeen!!! YES, there is a real paradox in this film, whereby the disruptions and self-reflexivity work to in fact make the characters feel closer to us. And how astute to point out that in painting the character of Michel in this improvisational way, the filmmakers are in fact attempting to convey their own rebelliousness. BRAVO! Thanks for all your hard work and insightful writing this semester. I hope you are considering becoming a film studies major 🙂

  2. Dongsheng Ma Says:

    Excellent observation! Great details analysis of the above.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar