Cody agrees with Quentin Tarantino.
To remake a film that came out of the French New Wave would be a daunting task for any director, even aside from the fact that it would be impossible to remake most of them because they were so of their time and place and director's persona. The 1950s/60s works of filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut are so highly regarded that to touch them would be just asking for a beating from critics and the arthouse crowd.
Director Jim McBride took on the challenge, choosing to remake the 1960 French film A Bout De Souffle, which was directed by Godard from a story by Truffaut, co-writing the screenplay adaptation with L.M. Kit Carson (Paris, Texas, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) to bring a new version of the story to the screen.
Richard Gere stars as Jesse, a young man who ekes out a living stealing and selling classic cars and doesn't let the fact that the movie is set in the same early '80s time period it was made in deter him from acting like he's living in the time that clearly most appeals to him, the 1950s/60s. His heart pumps rockabilly, he idolizes Jerry Lee Lewis, who had a hit in 1958 with the song "Breathless".
While driving back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas in a stolen Porsche one night, Jesse ends up being chased by a police officer. The Porsche goes off the road, the cop exits his vehicle with his gun drawn, and with his back against the wall Jesse instictively grabs the gun he found in the Porsche's glove compartment and fires a single shot... The cop is gravely wounded and Jesse is shocked at what's he done. He could make a run for the border right then and there, but he was going to L.A. with a purpose - to visit Monica, a girl he met in Vegas and became smitten with during their brief time (four days) together. The fact that she bailed on him in the middle of the night without saying goodbye makes seeing her again all the more important. Jesse continues on his way to Monica's apartment.
The characters' nationalities are reversed in McBride's remake. In Godard's France-based film, the criminal character was French and the girl an American. Here, Monica is a French girl who's come to America to study architecture at UCLA. She's played by Valérie Kaprisky and it's easy to see why Jesse finds her so alluring, why she leaves him breathless. Moments like the scene in which Monica tries to cool off from the scorching heat of the Santa Ana winds by relaxing in her apartment topless, rubbing an ice cube along her skin, lit with golden hour sunlight as wind coming in through an open window blows her hair don't hurt, either.
Though the cops are on his trail (one of the cops is named Enright, like Dennis Hopper's former Texas Ranger character in TCM2), Jesse spends some lust-fuelled days reconnecting with Monica, the pursuit of love overpowering self-preservation. They spend a good deal of their time together in various states of undress, you see a whole lot of both Gere and Kaprisky's bodies in this movie.
Jesse is also a big fan of the comic book The Silver Surfer, and passages read from issues as well as lines from a debate over whether or not the character sucks that Jesse has with an opinionated teenager mirror his own predicament: like the Surfer, he could escape from chaos and seek life in a safer place, but he sticks around. "Only a jerk would stay when he could go", but "love is the Power Supreme." Jesse tries to convince Monica to run off to Mexico with him, but she doesn't know the trouble he's in, so she brushes the request off, she has a life in L.A. By the time she does agree to hit the road with him, it may be too late.
In my SHOCKtober The Mothman Prophecies write-up, I said that Richard Gere has never had a very appealing screen presence for me, he always came across to me as a stuffy upper crust type, but I really liked him as the fast-living, law-breaking, pelvic-thrusting Jesse and enjoyed his interactions with Kaprisky's Monica.
Jim McBride directed the hell out this movie with style to spare, collaborating with cinematographer Richard H. Kline to craft a picture that is often awesome to look at. Filters, colorful lighting, purposely old fashioned rear projection and sped-up shots in driving scenes, some great shots and camera movement. While watching this, it became baffling that McBride isn't a popular filmmaker with a bigger career. Reactions to the film seem to be split, but it was a financial success. What happened to McBride?
Quentin Tarantino counts this film among his favorites, calling it one of the coolest movies ever made, and after watching the movie and hearing that, you can see it had an influence on him. There are traces of Breathless '83 in Tarantino's work from True Romance to his dialogue polish on Crimson Tide and beyond. And I have to concur - it is a very cool movie.