The Aimless Man (look for him in Vitteloni, The Cousins, Shadows, l'Avventura, and La Dolce Vita is young (25 or 30, unemployed, i.e. graduate student, hack writer, skilled car theif, etc., handsome (Continental, plenty of hair, dissatisfied (you don't know quit why, and good with women (evidently. Every Aimless Man chain smokes, drives fast, and expresses a weakness for classical music.
The preoccupation of Jean-luc Godard and other young directors with aimlessness may be a symptom for sociologists to analyze rather than reviewers. It seems clear, though, that Michelle Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), the aimless protagonist of Breatheless, is intriguing because audiences can simultaneously identify him and dismiss him as freak. The film contains little sting or criticism because Godard's semi-comic direction fosters an atmosphere of unreality, almost one of parody. Breathless is thus saved from the pseudo-philosophic qualities that the advertisers and critics have burdened it with. Godard need not and does not comment on Michelle's way of life, and his very preoccupation reveals sympathy, if anything.
The complaint has been levelled against Fellini that in La Dolce via he documents while failing to condemn Purposelessness; but this is untrue. The tension in Dolce Vita is accounted for by an unmistakable sense of time and life being wasted. Fellini, in short, recognizes the line between fascination and sympathy. Godard ignores it, and has designed Breathless simply to titillate.
The film does suffer because all sense of gravity is sacrificed. A fine scene like Belmondo's staggering dance of death--it's like a pulse running out--evaporates. Since significance is anathema, nothing is terribly significant. Death itself becomes a gas, just like ever other New Experience.
In a more important sense, however, Breathless is saved by its lightness. Michelle is funny because he is casual; self-pity would make him unbearable. And the absence of glum moralizing keeps the dialogue hot and amusing. Godard's sense of timing and sequence never Its up, while he abjures that false sense of "spontaneity," which so many young directors (Cassavetes is particularly guilty) pass off for honesty.
Breathless is worth seeing, but not as a "powerful, shocking and realistic"--New York Times--expose of God Knows what. If advertised as a comedy I'm sure it wouldn't be as successful, but it would be even more entertaining. Incidentally, a little old lady leaving the Brattle yesterday, said, "that was adorable."