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‘…Brooding, moody, but not above capturing moments of joy, Breathless deserves its new cult reputation…’

Sex is something that critics tend to turn up their noses at when it rears its ugly head; they fall over themselves to assure their readers that , of course, they don’t find any of this sexy at all. But back in the late 70’s, early 80’s, conveying some sense of erotic fervour was part of what was expected from a big movie, and Jim McBride’s Breathless, a vehicle for Richard Gere made it their main selling point .

Gere had been a rising star since American Gigolo, and was certainly a guy who men wanted to be and women wanted to…see in a big movie. Breathless casts him as Jesse Lujack, a car thief obsessed by comic books, namely The Silver Surfer. He’s also something of a ladies man, and fastens onto student Monica (Valerie Kaprisky), whose life is turned upside down when Jesse shakes up one of her college meetings. He’s just accidentally killed a cop after a desert car chase, and it’s only a matter of time before the law catches up. So every moment the couple have is stolen, and they fill the void with some heavy petting and outright canoodling before the inevitable tragic finale.

Taking inspiration from Godard’s film of the same name, McBride adds a few flourishes of his own, and not all of them work; speeded up film in the opening car chase is regrettable, as are the, presumably deliberate, poorly-processed back-projection when Jesse and Monica take off in whatever car he’s just grifted. And the music, largely Jerry Lee Lewis, has a retro feel that doesn’t feel right for a film that also features lightsabre fights and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; one chase takes place to Message of Love by The Pretenders, and the music doesn’t fit the action at all. And Jessie’s checked-pattern trousers are truly horrific, Rupert the Bear strides that would disgrace Fuzzy Zoeller on a casual day at the golf course.

But where Breathless excels is the portrayal of sex; Jesse and Monica play games with each other, and their first on-camera coupling seems to take an eternity to arrive. But when it does, things kick off with nuclear force, and the scene in which Jesse, erm, presents himself to her in the shower to Elvis’ Suspicious Minds is one of the erotic highpoints of cinema. Brooding, moody, but not above capturing moments of joy, Breathless deserves its new cult reputation, if only for depicting the act of love as an enjoyable thing between similarly minded people.


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  1. The title Reckless worked better for me than A Bout de Soufflé…for both the 60s and 80s versions. I agree with your musical assessment, which included a Jack the Ripper song. Gere was right casted; Valerie not as much. Interesting that today Gere is a silver surfer…

  2. Never shy of getting his kit off, Gere was definitely a hit with the ladies. I remember this with mixed views, in part because of the ripping-off of a genuine classic, and in part because of the flaws you mentioned. But you are right, the pure erotic charge makes it one of the few movies where sex plays a convincing part rather than being sex-bait for the wrong audience..

    • Yes, I’ve played down the influence of Godard here, since I think the film works on its own merits, and there’s very few films that carry a genuine charge in their sex scenes, but this one works…

  3. It’s a lofty target, and if you see as many 80’s films as me, hard to achieve. But I wish you luck…

  4. I never caught this, but wanted to. You’re right that sex is something that’s surprisingly hard to do on screen, and even more for critics to respond to. I think it was Roger Ebert who said that there’s nothing as ridiculous as other people’s sexual fantasies. This leads to a lot of it being generic just to play it safe.

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