Breathless (1960) is a masterpiece of French New Wave cinema and the directorial debut of legendary filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. Aesthetically, the film is a double delight. Firstly, from a formal perspective, the film is extremely stylish, bringing a fairly typical Hollywood B-movie plot to life through innovative staging and cinematography (scenes were shot using a handheld camera on the chaotic streets of Paris). Then there are the characters themselves, who are also tremendously stylish, channelling some of that unmistakable Parisian cool that the cigarette-toting, shades-wearing Godard was exemplary of.
The film’s protagonist is Michel Poiccard, a young criminal who shoots a police officer after stealing a car in Marseilles, who is played by acclaimed acteur Jean-Paul Belmondo. It should perhaps come as no surprise that Poiccard oozes rakishness; he models himself on Humphrey Bogart, the undisputed master of no-holes-barred American suiting, with whom he is obsessed. Yet the similarities between Poiccard and his idol go beyond mere imitation: there is a sublime, nebulous quality that connects the two. We might want to call it swagger, or attitude, or – to borrow a French term – je ne sais quoi. It’s this roguish trait that transforms Poiccard’s outfit from unremarkable separates into a suit of armour ready to rob a bank or seduce a beautiful film star (Jean Seberg plays Poiccard’s love interest) in.