Wednesday 28 March 2018


After stealing a car and shooting a police officer, small time crook Jesse (Richard Gere) tries to convince French student Monica (Valerie Kaprisky) to abandon her future and start a new life with him in Mexico. Hoping to conceal who he really is from Monica, Jesse continues to lie, cheat and steal to fund their escape, all the while with the police hot on his trail.

With its charismatic leading man and stylish visuals, you could be understandably concerned that Jim McBride's Breathless might be nothing more than an Americanised remake of the French New Wave classic; but fear not, as there's some real substance to this under-appreciated gem. That's largely thanks to the performance of Richard Gere, still working his way up to the height of his star power (this was the capper to his one, two, three punch after American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman) and revelling in the opportunity to play an anti-hero with real depth. As Silver Surfer obsessed Jesse, Gere is able to hustle his way through life, hook up with the beautiful French student Monica and evade the authorities without breaking too much of a sweat, figuratively. That's because at its heart, this sun drenched LA odyssey is a sexy, 'beads of sweat on a shirtless chest with a bleeding heart tattoo' kind of movie, and plays to its film soleil strengths at every given opportunity.

If you're unfamiliar with film soleil, it's best categorised as an update on the well-worn film noir genre, taking in beautiful, sun soaked vistas with quite often a boy and a girl on the run at its centre. Breathless may not be as recognised as David Lynch's Wild at Heart or Dennis Hopper's The Hot Spot, but it's a key film in that run of films that appeared in the 80s and 90s. This film shares the almost artificially hazy, dreamlike sunsets and outrageous wardrobe of some of its genre-mates, but although there is a lot of style on show, it would be wrong to consider it style over substance.

The basic plot of Breathless may concern Jesse's attempts to avoid incarceration and to cross the border to Mexico, but there's long scenes where little else happens except Gere and Kaprisky play cat and mouse flirting games in a hotel room, and these are as equally engrossing. It's the chemistry between these two that not only sells the romance, but the raw sexual power and the allure of the film. Special praise should be given to Kaprisky, who at only 20 years old at the time of production, puts in a star making turn against the established Gere. She ultimately opted to continue her career in her native France, but her relative obscurity only helps to make her character of Monica stand out all the more. It's also worth noting that McBride went on to direct The Big Easy and the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire, so he's clearly a director able to project a particular style to all of his work. His career took a down turn in the 90s, but this will be the film he is remembered for, and not just because of its relationship to its French older brother.

1960's Breathless will always be heralded as the more important film, but director Jim McBride should be commended for doing something new with the set up. Okay, so a guy and a girl on the run is a familiar tale, but I've never seen LA look like this before (it's rare that a wall is passed without some exotic fresco painted on it), and as a real rock and roll rebel, I've never seen Gere this compelling a screen presence before. For fans of hip, sexy road movies, this is a must.


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