Breathless (1983)recommended viewing

Where is my taco? Can I go fast again?
Jim McBride
Richard Gere, Valerie Kaprisky, Art Metrano, John P. Ryan
The Setup: 
Super unstable guy on the run from the law tries to ensnare a woman into heading to Mexico with him.

I love comparing/contrasting fun, and I LOVE remakes of revered classics that completely decimate everything that was good about the original, so I thought it would be a great double-feature to get the original Godard Breathless and the poorly-regarded American remake and watch them in close succession. What I didn't know at the time is that the Godard original is a very difficult film to get into, most of its importance lying in its technique and how influential it is, and that the remake is actually quite a respectable film, and only objected to by people who dismiss it simply for daring to be a remake of an utterly unique film.

We open with Richard Gere—young and at the zenith of his hotness—cockily socking beer and donning sunglasses, as we notice that the credits are in comic book-style lettering. He looks at a Silver Surfer comic book, then steals a Porsche. A woman asks to go with him, but he refuses. He then talks cockily, like a person who can't stand to pass a single moment in quiet reflection, to himself as he drives. So far, this is a very close remake to the original. He then puts on the Jerry Lee Lewis song "Breathless," which I personally regard as a mistake, as it can only inspire the audience unfamiliar with Godard's film to have a too-literal interpretation of the title, but it turns out that this is just the first blast of a tacky fusillade. The director Jim McBride, by the way, went on to direct the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire, so this may be a personal thing with him.

So Gere, his character is named Jesse, pulls off to avoid cops who are after him for speeding, and ends up in a ditch while trying to avoid a bunny. Luckily my bunny was not with me during this scene, or I'm sure her fragile little mind would have been forever cracked. The bunny in the movie was totally chill though; I think most rabbits would run off when a car comes careening at them full speed, but not this brave little bunny. She stands her ground. Anyway, Jesse has the gun in his hand when the cop tells him to freeze and put his hands up. If he does that, the cop will see the gun, but he can't just stay there. The gun fires, and wouldn't you know, he hit the cop dead on. This is actually a fairly decent corollary with the original, as in the Godard, one of the famous jump-cuts obscures what really happened, we just know that a cop has been shot. This is a good time to mention that while one admires the Godard jump-cuts and their place in cinema technique, a little continuity is not entirely unwelcome in this new version.

He continues on his way—still talking to himself the whole time—looking for this woman, Monica. He breaks into her apartment and takes a shower, offering those who want it some frontal Gere nudity as he sings manically in the shower. He learns that Monica is at a college review—she is studying architecture—and he jumps up in the window outside. He then barges in, claiming to be from maintenance, saying he needs one of heir tables, then picks up the table and "accidentally" uses the legs to smash up everything in the room. It's kind of a great scene. He meets her outside, where she justly asks him why he's come after her, when "we only spent one or two nights together in Mexico." Jesse then makes another unfortunate and unnecessary [and slightly embarrassing] speech tying the title into the movie ["That's me around you… Breathless"] before Monica tells him to go toss off. In this version, by the way, Jesse is American and Monica is French, a reversal of the original, in which the Jesse character was French and his girlfriend American. It's actually better than just a simple reversal, because it preserves the dynamic that the criminal is a native, and the girlfriend a visitor.

So Jeese now goes around trying to collect money owed to him before he heads off to Mexico, all the while avoiding the police. If he truly wants to be inconspicuous, however, I think he might want to rethink that bright red shirt and blue pants. There's a great scene—again, lifted almost unchanged from the original—where the police come in to talk to this shop owner a second after Jesse leaves. The owner says he hasn't seen Jesse, but a nearby female employee pointedly tells the police that he just left, then throws the sassy eye to her boss.

So Monica goes home and realizes that Jesse's been in her apartment, which makes her feel a little funny, kind of in a good way, then Jesse shows up outside in a pink convertible, and is greeted by Monica in a truly unfortunate 80s blouse. She's always wondering why Jesse has a new car every time she sees him, unaware that they're stolen. They zoom down the highway for a while, then stop at a diner, where you'll be surprised to learn that waitresses are perfectly delighted to have you lift plates intended for other customers off their platters and appropriate them for yourself. Jesse then steals the purse of Bruce Vilanich in the bathroom, whereafter they have to beat as hasty exit. Monica reveals herself to be no picture of brainy stability as she vacantly utters some of the most brilliant dialogue cinema has to offer: "Where is my taco? Can I go fast again?"

But schematic screenwriting is knocking on your door when this kid appears to taunt Jesse about his love for the Silver Surfer, going so far as to follow him down the street, shouting "Only a jerk would stay when he should go! The Silver Surfer sucks!" So Jesse repairs back to Monica and they begin their multi-scene fuck-fest. First in the pool, then inside, on the architectural plans, then they're starting up again when Monica gets a call from one of the college dudes she's been seeing who leaves a long message about how "last night was great." By this time the cumulative effect of the movie was enough to get me to note: "A great deal of PINK in this movie."

Now there's an interesting scene where Monica's in the shower, and Jesse sees that his picture is on the news as a wanted fugitive. He freaks, and over the course of the next minute, we see how he mentally transforms from scared to death to over-the-top confident, clearly showing that he uses his crazily confident bravado as a way of dealing with the desperate terror he feels inside. He goes to her in the shower and sings "Suspicious Minds." We can also see how she knows that this situation is gong nowhere, but she is so dazzled and sexually overwhelmed by Jesse that it's very difficult to break away. So, interesting psychology that it was difficult for me to grasp in the French version.

Then follows another symbolism-laden discussion of the Silver Surfer, then Monica is having her picture taken with the rest of the architectural board [or whoever] when a detective suddenly grabs her and pulls her out. She's doing some real damage to her career, and it's kind of hilarious. Someone on the IMDb made the comment that in this movie they "walk by every single mural in L.A.," and while I can't vouch for the fact that they hit EVERY single mural in the city, it sure seems like they at least tried. At 75 minutes [15 minutes to go], Monica finally decides to say "Fuck it!" to the responsibilities of her life and run away to Mexico with Jesse. Once she makes this decision she fully lets go, and you can see she allows herself to go fully head over heels about him. I'm going to leave the last few scenes for your to discover, only to tell you that they continue to be emotionally interesting, and mark a variation from the ending of the original, but one that is similar in spirit and still interesting.

Sorry, I REALLY liked it. Of course is never going to be Godard's film, but to their credit, I don't think they try. What they do is focus on the story and the psychology, creating a compelling film in itself, and one that becomes amusing in proportion to how familiar one is with the original. It's unusual to have an American movie center around a character balanced precariously on the brink of sanity, with little to no morally redeeming qualities whatsoever. It's also unusual to have the secondary character also be so morally wavering, and almost throw over her entire life for crazy excitement and sexual passion. This movie never could have been made with these characters if it weren't a remake of something that had come before, and I for one appreciated the chance to soak up some really interesting, desperate characters that don't have the morally-redeeming fiber that makes most American movie characters so boring.

So don't dis this movie just for being a remake, because it is a genuinely smart one that doesn't try to replicate the original, and quite intelligently makes its own movie from he material while still remaining interesting for fans of the first film. As I said, the psychology and story of the original remained opaque to me until after watching this version, and this remake made going back to watch the remake much more interesting, and illuminated a lot of what I missed the first time. Go for it!

Should you watch it: 

Yes! I really liked it, it's fun and has depth, and is very, very 80s.

BREATHLESS [1960] is a super-influential classic of the French New Wave, and must be seen. Watching it in close proximity to the remake is a worthwhile exercise, and you might consider doing the remake first, or at least keeping the original on hand to go back to.