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In the end, he either dies or leaves

Godard’s approach to À bout de souffle has been sensational since the film gained momentum, and it in itself helped turn its momentum into a well-deserved permanent notoriety. Since the author rarely answers back what the interviewer asks, and I was wondering about how the actors perceived this methodology, I decided to look for Belmondo’s or Seberg’s take on the issue. Lucky me, the Internet happened and I found my answer.

Belmondo is not the only actor of the film, but he kept on working with Godard afterwards and that’s the kind of relationship I have had with some of my collaborators, and the one I want to have with other people as well. So, why did Belmondo keep on working with Godard? This may be one big reason.

Not Jean-Paul Belmondo

[À bout de souffle] revolutionized cinema. Explain us how scenes were shot. For example, the famous scene with you and Jean Seberg in her room.

Jean-Paul Belmondo

It was shot very freely, like the rest of the film. I’d show up around nine or ten in the morning and have coffee with Jean at the corner café while Godard wrote the dialogues that we would later say in the room.

When he was ready, he’d get to us and we’d go upstairs. First he’d read the scene for us one time, then we’d discuss anything we didn’t feel comfortable with. We’d rephrase it in our own words. Then we’d start shooting.

There were no lights or cables, so we could move freely. If we wanted to play around, we did. If we wanted to get under the covers, we could. The cameraman was ready for anything.

Not Jean-Paul Belmondo

He wrote the dialogue every morning?

Jean-Paul Belmondo

Yes yes, every morning. When I accepted the role, he gave me three little pages where he’d written:

He leaves Marseilles.

He steals a car.

He wants to sleep with the girl again. She doesn’t.

In the end, he either dies or leaves — to be decided.

And we opted for his death.

So every morning I learned about Poiccard’s (Belmondo’s character in the film) further adventures. I had no idea what would happen to me that day. I’d find out each morning.

Not Jean-Paul Belmondo

Was there improvisation?

Jean-Paul Belmondo

Yes, for instance, I’d arrive every morning and fool around by shadowboxing in front of the mirror. Godard filmed me doing that and saying, “I’m not much of a looker, but I’m quite a boxer.”

Not Jean-Paul Belmondo

Did you come up with that line?

Jean-Paul Belmondo

The both of us. I’d say things like that and he would rephrase them.

What I have done (Update: April 5th, 2018)

For Your Mario Dancing I usually had plenty of days to review the footage, react to it, play with it, to then define if the story would take a different turn from what I had projected before. That I can not relate to the process described by Belmondo.

Instead, I have come to believe that Godard was attempting to leave almost no room for reflection, before taking action. I mean, writing the actions and dialogues those same morning, before shooting, come on. So my guess is that he saw value in that restriction: “We have got to shoot today, everything is set, I have to run with this, I have to pull it out of my gut”. And his gut, of course, was filled with his massive amount of hours as a spectator, film critic and film thinker. So the gathering and the thinking had already been done, he now needed to execute. To transcribe the words as they presented themselves.

Text editing, idea editing, narrative editing, would then happen under the influence of adrenaline, while shooting. He himself would have to feel the material he thought they were capturing, and how it may make others feel in relation to the film as a whole. Among other considerations.

The editing room would permit a final edition, one in which he certainly let himself and his editor, Cécile Decugis, behave in outrageous (playful) manners.

This approach I can not relate, as I said, to Your Mario Dancing. I can certainly do so in relation to other films of mine I regard as some of my best, the Toritos series I have made with Pablo Murillo.

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