Category Archives: Breathless

Editing Breathless

Many people say that editing is the key to cinema because it is a widely discussed film technique that can achieve so much in a film. What is editing? It is the coordination of one shot with the next. It is the transition between uninterrupted film segments. These transitions, or changes from one shot to another, are known as cuts. By using cuts, films are able to have different types of edits or editing methods to make the film more interesting. 

One film known for its editing techniques is Breathless. This film was created in 1960, the time of the French New Wave. The French New Wave was a movement marked by French filmmakers who created works that strayed from classical cinematic form. Many filmmakers of the time started many editing experiments. Breathless was one of the first films to use discontinuity editing where the connections between shots are not invisible. The audience is able to tell the editing is being done between shots. It is not a smooth transition. The objective of this method is to push the viewer out of their involvement with the film. They are put into a distance where they no longer feel like they are in the movie. The film’s use of jump cuts is what created this discontinuity. The jump cut is when the object in front of the camera appears to “jump” on screen. The best example is the famous car scene where the camera is focused in on Patricia. While she is talking to Michel her head tends to look one direction and then all of a sudden it is seen looking in a different direction. Her face tends to jump from different positions. See the jump cuts in the video below.

Also, a part from its jump cuts, the film fails to give any establishing shots or shot/reverse shots that were shown often in classical cinematic form. The establishing shot is when you can see the entire space of a scene. It gives the audience the overall picture and then is followed by a breakdown where the camera gets a closer view of objects in that scene. In Breathless, the camera is constantly getting a close view of objects in a scene without establishing the overall picture. This tactic helps skew the audience’s understanding of that scene. As for the shot/reverse shot, there is none during any conversation. Shot/reverse shot is the pattern used for conversation between two people. It is when the camera is looking over the should of the listener at the person who is speaking. Then when the other person starts talking, the camera switches and looks toward that other person. The audience always sees both people engaging in the conversation. Breathless only shows the camera going back and forth on the characters when they are talking. It does not show both in the same shot like traditional shot/reverse shot methods do. 

With the film failing to incorporate these editing techniques, it is suggesting the characters’ disconnection or lack of agency. They are often being separated by the camera and are rarely seen together in the same shot although they are interacting in the same scene. Although the lack of these elements really shapes the film, Breathless is widely known for its use of jump cuts. In the film, they create spatial disorientation for the viewers. The viewers do not feel connected to the film because they notice the artificiality. This allows them to separate from the characters and see them as individuals in the film.