MICHEL OR JESSE, WHO’S BETTER?
Cold lonely day in exurban New York, a day to stay inside and watch movies. I checked out the French and American versions of ‘Breathless,’ the iconic movie about a small-time thief who steals a car and impulsively murders a policeman.
Hunted by the police, the anti-hero, Michel, in the French film, and Jesse, in the American, hooks up with a girlfriend and tries to get her to run away with him to, in Michel’s case, Italy, and with Jesse, to Mexico.
The original 1960 French production with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg and directed by Jean-Luc Godard is regarded as the one true authentic version, with all the mood and atmosphere of classic French cinema.
THE AMERICAN VERSION
The 1983 American version with Richard Gere and Valerie Kaprisky and directed by Jim McBride is seen as crass and unsophisticated.
Gere’s character gyrates to Jerry Lee Lewis, and reads ‘Silver Surfer’ comic books, while Godard’s version moves smoothly to jazz and classical music.
All that may be true — although I don’t agree — but when it comes to the very last shot in the final scene, the American version, in my opinion, is far more dramatic than the French ending.
THE AMERICAN ENDING
Gere grabbing the gun and spinning around to fire and — FREEZE FRAME —- as Jerry Lee Lewis belts out the song. Great last shot! Super-dramatic, and romantic as hell.
Valerie Kaprisky is way more warm and sexy than cold, aloof, unsexy Jean Seberg. And throughout the movie, I found Gere’s character to be more likable and endearing than the obnoxious punk Belmondo portrays.
THE FRENCH ENDING
But back to that last scene. The French ending is similar to the American, with the hapless anti-hero picking up the gun that was tossed onto the road for him.
But the last shot doesn’t have that killer of a moment when Gere spins around with the gun — FREEZE FRAME — roll credits as Jerry Lee Lewis pounds out the song ‘Breathless.’