While the film is about a romantic coupling to a degree, it does begin focusing primarily on the film's "protagonist" Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) a part-time thief and full-time woman admirer, who is constantly on a quest to make money, while spouting his own frustrations and problems with the opposite sex. Indeed, Michel makes it quite clear that women, in his eyes, are incapable of functioning on any legitimate societal level, taking particular disdain in their always being broke and their being terrible drivers, never mind that he himself is constantly without money and certainly is not the most sane or logical of automobile operators. When an auto theft goes awry and Michel murders a cop to save his own life, he moves into a constant state of paranoia and flight from authorities, which seems to be fine, until he runs into Patricia (Jean Seberg) an American living in Paris while working as a correspondent/salesperson for the European branch of The New York Herald-Tribune. While the narrative does not outright express it as fact, it is assumed that Patricia and Michel have had some intimate past together, indeed, Michel admits to returning to visit her, almost entirely on a desire to have sex. Patricia who is initially dismissive of Michel due to his one-track mind and his flippant attitude towards her and most women, nonetheless, agrees to spend time with him, when he seeks shelter from the authorities in her apartment. At this point the two spend an entire afternoon, evening and morning discussing the ethics of love, lust and humanity, while engaging in intercourse. In the process, the two become more romantically entwined than before, admitting their deep affection for one another and while they would enjoy the possibility of staying in the moment, Patricia must return to work, while Michel must accrue the necessary funds to flee from his imminent arrest. It is while Patricia is at work that French police approach her with information regarding Michel, threatening her livelihood and visa status should she not help their investigation. At first, Patricia is committed to her affections for Michel and stays by his side, yet when it becomes clear that he is still occupied with his criminal life, Patricia breaks down and reports his location to the police, an act she clearly regrets immediately. Irony arises when the two are driving and the police finally catch up with Michel, only moments after he obtains the money he as been seeking since the onset of the film. Realizing the futility of the entire endeavor he flees down the street, only to be gunned down by officers. Patricia distraught runs to Michel's aide and stares at him as he slowly fades into death. Michel simply dismisses her and her foolishness, claiming that her betrayal makes him want to puke, although a language barrier causes Patricia, in the closing moments of the film, to wonder exactly what "puke" means.
It is precisely this closing moment of Patricia being "lost in translation" as it were, that speaks to the particular dynamism of the duo of Michel and Patricia. Language being the first obvious difference between the two, lays out a duality of difference that is often challenged, ignored and undermined in the hopes that the two can create some degree of a lasting and meaningful romance together. Many of the classic Hollywood comedic duos play upon this difference, while, ultimately, noting that the pair can overcome adversity and find a powerful force in love, and Breathless, certainly borrows from that tradition. However, Godard has over the years been very expressive of the major influence the genre of film noir had on his works, particularly this and Alphaville. In as much, Michel and Patricia are as much a hapless hero and femme fatale, as they are a romantic comedic pairing. However, even this is revisionist to a heavy degree, because Michel, while misogynist and a criminal, does not exude the same hardboiled chiseled nature of his idol Humphrey Bogart, in fact, when his absurdly effeminate mugshot appears in the papers, one cannot help but laugh at how non-threatening he looks, despite having committed a murder earlier in the film. He is not the traditional masculine figure of the genre, just as Patricia is not truly a femme fatale. Sure it is her betrayal that causes his downfall, but there is not the sense of remorselessness that comes with a Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. The duo is not a pair of drifting individuals who come together for a fleeting moment, but instead to opposing forces, that find themselves so magnetically drawn to each other that their cohesion factors heavily into the film. The hotel room scene, where they consummate their love for one another, lasts roughly thirty plus minutes, nearly constituting half of the film, which is deservedly so, because what happens prior is their movement at a high speed towards one another, while the post-apartment moments represent the aftermath of their collision, which has a very fatal result for Michel. The ignorance of Patricia at the films closing could be read as demeaning to her character, but I think it simply speaks to a larger issue of duality in love, where ideologies never truly mesh and because of such inherent miscommunication one partner is always far less aware of the damage done to the other, so while it is literal in the film, it plays into a much larger metaphorical statement. In the end, Godard is clearly claiming that love can arise between even the most unusual of duos, and while it can certainly burst through barriers of language, ideology and personal desire, doing so also runs the risk of one or both of the people involved being trampled in the process, or in the case of this film being shot in the streets of Paris.
Key Scene: While it is quite an extended bit to consider a scene, I do thing the entirety of the dialogue and interactions occurring within the apartment, might be the single greatest moment in modern cinema.
Criterion Bluray. Buy it...for your health.