À bout de souffle by Ramona Fotiade (review)
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À bout de souffle. By Ramona Fotiade. (Cine-File French Film Guides.) London: I. B. Tauris, 2013. 142pp.

Writing a new book aboutÀ bout de souffle (1960) — among the most famous and frequently studied of all French films — is certainly brave, given that the film has already been the focus of two book-length works (Dudley Andrew’s edited volume for Rutgers University Press in 1990 and Michel Marie’s French study published by Nathan in 1999) and features prominently in every general book on Jean-Luc Godard as well as every book about the French new wave. To her credit, Ramona Fotiade appears undaunted by this task, doing a good job of synthesizing for new readers existing research on the production history, reception, and analysis of Godard’s film. Fotiade resists the notion that Godard’s film was in any sense a happy accident. Taking direction from research by Alain Bergala, for instance, she dismisses the idea that the free and easy shooting style of the new wave was made possible by the recent availability of lightweight cameras and sound-recording equipment; on the contrary, ‘the demand for lighter sound cameras arose from the young directors’ emphasis on location shooting and enhanced “authenticity” of the soundtrack and dialogues’ (p. 62). Similarly, the unusual choice of Ilford HPS film stock and the use of location shooting were first and foremost aesthetic decisions rather than economic necessities. Fotiade affirms: ‘A film about filmmaking and the history of cinema, À bout de souffle stages and performs a calculated displacement of editing and storytelling conventions that established Godard as the Nouvelle Vague auteur par excellence, and later confirmed his reputation as one of the first postmodern directors in French cinema’ (pp. 11–12). There is some good attention to detail in the discussion of individual sequences here, as one would expect from a book-length study of a single film, and some of Fotiade’s analyses are astute. For instance, the implications of the scene in which Patricia meets the journalist Van Doude have perhaps never before been so clearly and fully laid out. But, at times, an overall argument can get rather lost in this material. Quoting Godard’s description of his method during the shooting ofÀ bout de souffle as ‘last-minute focusing’ (as opposed to improvisation), Fotiade then proceeds, via a ‘For instance’ (p. 41), to offer a description of the sequence in which Michel Poiccard arrives in Paris. But it is by no means clear, from the ensuing découpage, how this sequence illustrates the method (apparently) under discussion. The book will be a useful resource for the many students and teachers who work withÀ bout de souffle every year, but it offers relatively little fresh insight for experts and includes rather a lot of careless mistakes: Les Carabiniers (1963) is named as Godard’s ‘third feature film’ (it was his fifth); the cultural magazine Arts is given as ‘Art’ (p. 25); Dudley Andrew becomes Dudley Andrews (p. 89); and Françoise Giroud turns up as ‘François’ (p. 81). Even Claude [End Page 439] Lévi-Strauss is given as ‘Lévy-Strauss’ (p. 17), which is unfortunate, given that Fotiade repeatedly underlines the importance of anthropological thought, practice, and cinema over Godard’s trajectory.

Douglas Morrey
University of Warwick
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