The first five minutes of the French New Wave film Breathless (1960) uses several techniques that signal the viewer of its awareness as a film. The film’s main character, Michel, directly addresses the camera. There are jump cuts between scenes and shots. The camerawork is often handheld. The lighting is uneven and mainly natural.
The beginning of the film starts with alternating shots of a close-up of Michel and a close-up of a woman signaling Michel, nodding at him. This use of close-up between these two characters causes the viewer to believe these characters are close to each other. However, when we get wider shots of them and their surrounding area, we see that they are not. The use of close-up confuses the viewer, especially those who are accustomed to the continuity style editing of Classic Hollywood.
Getting the signal from the woman, Michel promptly steals a car. We are then shown a lengthy sequence of Michel driving, talking to himself as well as addressing the camera (“If you don’t like the shore…if you don’t like the mountains…if you don’t like the city…Then get stuffed!”). The sequence is mostly stream-of-consciousness from Michel, talking about his surroundings while the camera, inside the vehicle and mostly handheld, looks at him and his surroundings. This sequence once again breaks the rules of continuity editing. By showing us this sequence, Godard does away with elliptical editing, which would have skipped this driving part almost entirely, and presents to us the candid nature of Michel.
We are then brought to the main action of the scene: Michel’s run-in with the law. While driving, Michel gets chased by the police. In an effort to evade them, Michel drives off-road and loses all the cops but one, who finds Michel and is then promptly shot by him. The shooting of the cop takes advantage of jump cuts and close-ups to disorient the viewer of what’s going on. When the cop stops and asks Michel to “Freeze,” we see a close-up of Michel and a close-up of a gun, presumably being pointed at Michel. We then hear the gun fired and we see the cop fall into a bush.
Jump cut to: a panning long shot of Michel fleeing the scene on foot through a wide open meadow. The scene is dimly lit, and with the exception of Michel’s white shirt, is almost washed out in its grayness. And that is how the first five minutes of the movie unfolds.