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COLCOA 2012 Opening Night, From New "My Way' to 'A Trip to the Moon' and 'Breathless'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 17, 2012 at 1:10PM

Opening night at the City of Lights City of Angels French film week at the Directors Guild always features sweet champagne and pastries, a mediocre French movie that the French consider to be the kind of commercial film American distributors should embrace but never do...
"A Trip to the Moon"
"A Trip to the Moon"

A few weeks ago I saw a new, ravishing print of "Breathless" at the Motion Picture Academy.  Jean Seberg’s gloriously bad French.  Belmondo’s boxer’s shuffle.  Guns.  Cars.  Paris.  And that fine cameo by the great Jean-Pierre Melville, playing a philosopher named Parvulesco, stepping off a plane to state his deepest wish: “I want to become immortal, and then die.”

I used to think of Breathless as the birth of contemporary cinema.  But to be honest about it, if cinema began in 1895 with the brothers Lumière in the basement of the Grand Café, "Breathless" is closer to cinema’s midpoint.  There’s almost as much after it, as before.  "Breathless," a film that I’ve revisited all my life, again and again, is now 53—older than most of you in this room, older than the president of the United States.

As Jennifer Egan says, “time’s a goon.”  And that goon squad has been very busy of late, turning what had been modern into what is now--  Classic.  Turning life-and-death arguments into dimly remembered conversations.   Did it really matter which we loved more: "Cahiers" or "Positif"; the new wave or the tradition of quality; Lumière or Méliès; Godard or Truffaut?  What mattered was the caring.  What mattered was the connection between our deepest emotions and the currents of French cinema.

And now, as the nouvelle vague settles into its comfortable middle age; as the Feuillade’s "Fantômas" is about to turn a hundred; as Georges Méliès himself becomes a character in a feature film shot and exhibited in digital 3D--  As we contemplate the reach of French cinema, from the first Lumière projections to the wondrous films we’ll see here this week--  As our personal goon squads close in, with the result that the French films that we’ve seen and the memories of our own lives become impossible to disentangle--

One thing remains clear.  The French cinema has, in the wish of Parvulesco, become immortal.  But with a difference: because in defiance of the second half of that wish, the French cinema gloriously, stunningly, gorgeously, completely, deliriously, resourcefully, resolutely and absolutely refuses to die.  And for that we are wildly grateful.  Merci infiniment.

Posted with the permission of Howard Rodman.

This article is related to: Foreign, On the Town, Guest Blogger, Festivals, Festivals

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.