Richard Gere is probably best known now as a gentile amiable presence, inhabiting films aimed at the ‘grey market’. His resplendent and flowing grey locks and twinkly eyes have graced such autumnal classics as The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, but at one time he was one of the hottest properties in Hollywood. Films like American Gigolo, An Officer and a Gentleman and Breathless were hugely popular. Indeed, in Jim McBride’s remake of Godard’s À bout de soufflé he gives one of his most electrifying performances.
Jesse Lujack (Richard Gere) is a cocky, headstrong Las Vegas drifter. Living off his wits, and obsessed with Jerry Lee Lewis and Silver Surfer comics, he’s desperate to see a French student, Monica (Valérie Kaprisky), who he’s ‘in love’ with. After stealing a car, in a moment of madness he shoots and kills a cop. Jesse flees to LA to try and persuade her to elope to Mexico with him, but before they can leave he needs to get hold of some funds.
You have to be brave to remake a film considered a classic by most cinephiles, but McBride just about gets away with it. There are two main reasons why Breathless is a success. Gere is absolutely terrific. It’s his most frantic and energetic performance where he basically plays an exaggerated caricature of what people expected him to be. More importantly, Breathless has a knowing swagger, playing up and inverting many tropes of the original and the French nouvelle vague. Including a clever moment in a cinema and an ending which is something else. Breathless is pure trash but in the best sense of the word.
Breathless is released on Blu-ray by Second Sight on 26 March.