Jean Seberg: Still Breathless After All These Years

vlcsnap-2012-05-22-19h22m51s213In the French Style (1963), an American production directed by Robert Parrish, is an unexpected find. While the films Jean Seberg made in France are mostly out of circulation, this affecting drama has been shown on TCM and is available on DVD with a good transfer. Because color was becoming the norm by 1963, I was surprised it was in black-and-white. As the movie begins, Paris looks drab. Things liven visually as the story progresses. Whereas many color movies from the era now appear dated, here the black-and-white has a freshness.

With Jean Paul Belmondo in Breathless (À bout de souffle)

The cinematography, by Michel Kelber, also makes clear the connection with the French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague) that was happening concurrently. Director Parrish [Cry Danger (1951)] would certainly have been aware of the New Wave. His straightforward storytelling style is closer to François Truffaut or Louis Malle than to the innovative Jean Luc Godard, whose Breathless (1960) Seberg is best known for [Film noir, where Parrish began, is part of the mix the New Wave drew from.]. French Style makes a good companion piece to Paris Blues (1961), directed by Martin Ritt, another movie about young American expatriates.

I'll be fashionable, someday

I’ll be fashionable, someday.

In French Style, Christina James (Seberg) is a nineteen-year-old studying abroad with ambitions to be a painter.At an art opening, she meets Guy (Phillipe Forquet) an arrogant young man with a secret. With little fanfare, she rides off with him on his motor scooter. That would seem to be the extent of it, another story of young love in the 1960s.

vlcsnap-2012-05-22-20h09m39s129vlcsnap-2012-05-22-20h13m01s98But, that’s only a preamble to a more nuanced one about life’s compromises and remaining true to an artistic vision. In an abrupt flash forward, Christina is a Paris party girl, successful in her way. The ponytail has been replaced by a more sophisticated hairdo and the painting career has gone on the back burner. She’s become a “man pleaser” which at first was a means to end but has become her new identity