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Breathless (1983) starring Richard Gere Blu Ray (Second Sight)

A car thief in love and in jeopardy

This American remake of Jean-Luc Godard’s highly-regarded French arthouse classic Breathless (1960) features Richard Gere as a Las Vegas car thief named Jesse Lujack who has four loves: flashy cars, Silver Surfer comics, 1950s rock ’n’ roll and a beautiful French student named Monica (Valérie Kaprisky). One night after stealing a fast car, he is pursued by a highway cop. He ends up careening off the road and, just as he is about to be arrested, he shoots the officer with a gun that he found in the glove compartment.

Richard Gere and Valérie Kaprisky in Breathless

As the story breaks about the cop’s death, he heads to Los Angeles to see Monica and plans for the pair of them to escape to Mexico. They resume their steamy relationship while the police, led by Lt. Parmental (John P. Ryan), close in.

Watch a trailer:

An enjoyably sacrilegious remake

Jim McBride’s remake of a film that is regarded as a cornerstone of French cinema is akin to daubing a cathedral with lively street art. It’s sacrilegious, to be sure, but in a way that is fascinatingly off-kilter and a hell of a lot of fun. It mixes the basic plot outline of the original with rock video sensibilities (including Gere intermittently miming over various 1950s hits playing in the background), neon-drenched visuals, pop-culture references, soft-core sexuality and fast-paced action sequences. It hardly comes as a surprise that Quentin Tarantino has confessed to being a major fan. Its stylish, groove-orientated feel is also uncannily similar to the recent Edgar Wright hit Baby Driver (2017).

That’s not to say that it’s a particularly great movie; it’s all style and no substance. Richard Gere plays the anti-hero protagonist as a reckless, preening egomaniac. In real-life, no accomplished thief would want to draw attention to themselves in anything like the way in which this character does. French actress Valérie Kaprisky’s delivery of the English-language dialogue is rather flat and it’s frankly unsurprising that this was her only major Hollywood role. On the other hand, the pair do generate enough chemistry during their love scenes together to make up for their otherwise un-nuanced performances.

Local colour and pop culture

It’s an immensely watchable film as it glossily whisks by at a great pace, seemingly without a care in the world. Jim McBride has a fine eye for local colour as L.A.’s modern urban settings blend with quirky bars, street murals and Latino influences, turning the city into the de facto main star of the show. The pop culture referencing also feeds into this already bright tapestry: Lujack’s love of the Silver Surfer, those Chuck Berry hits playing over the car radio, the 1950 cult classic Gun Crazy showing at a local cinema that the couple hide out in, a pair of young men having a night-time play fight with a couple of imitation Star Wars lightsabers and so on. There’s a certain breathless (see what I did?) sense of escapism here. While they nominally plan to escape to Mexico, there are a million possible avenues here - both literal and metaphorical - around them.

Richard Gere reading Silver Surfer in Breathless

It is also one of the more unusually unabashed Hollywood films in terms of showing a lot of skin on screen, even extending to a very brief glimpse of Gere’s genitalia. On the other hand, the level of onscreen violence is surprisingly mild in comparison with other crime thrillers from this era. The early shooting of the cop is never explicitly shown, while the aftermath is depicted with unusual gentility as Gere’s character cradles his head by bundling his coat underneath it. A scuffle in an auto junkyard is about as brutal as the action gets. The sight of a small cut on one character’s hand is as much blood as we ever see here.

Breathless is more of a guilty pleasure than anything else, an unashamedly garish bubble of inspired 1980s excess. It’s a warmup act to McBride’s subsequent The Big Easy which used some similar stylistic elements to decidedly better overall effect. As remakes go, however, it at least has a genuine personality of its own - which is more than can be said for most.

Runtime: 100 mins

Dir: Jim McBride

Script: L.M. Kit Carson, Jim McBride, from an original script by François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard

Starring: Richard Gere, Valérie Kaprisky, Art Metrano, John P. Ryan, William Tepper, Robert Dunn, James Hong

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

For the most part, the slick visuals and soundtrack are represented very well here in a pristine restoration. However, a few of the more neon-drenched scenes are rather over-saturated.

Extras

Mark Kermode on Breathless

The much-respected critic expresses his love of a film which was widely dismissed during its original release, in part due to a certain snobbery around remaking revered classics. He also examines its influence on the work of director Quentin Tarantino. As per usual with Kermode, it’s an enjoyable and astute appraisal.

Still Breathless

Valérie Kaprisky (who has certainly aged well) talks with fondness about her time working on the film. She reveals how thrilled she was about being put up in the iconic Chateau Marmont hotel on Sunset Boulevard during the shoot. She also talks about her love scenes with Richard Gere (the pair were sprayed with water to make their nude convulsions look more steamy and passionate).

Overall:

Breathless is a relic from the 1980s which could very easily be either loved or hated - but never accused of being boring.

Movie: ☆☆☆1/2

Video: ☆☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆

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