I just stumbled upon this a couple weeks ago. (Click here for the whole series) Apparently it is a fairly renowned fashion spread from the 1990s for a couple reasons, Christy Turlington for one, and two, it's an awesome set of photos. But beyond the obvious aesthetics, it's the source material I am interested in. I am a huge fan of the Jean-Lic Godard's French New Wave film A Bout de souffle (it's the picture behind the title of this blog!) and this spread takes all its cues from that film, in particular the character played by the gorgeous Jean Seberg!
In the film, Seberg plays Patricia, a young American woman in 1960 Paris, who helps her acquaintance and (sort-of) lover Michel (the now iconic French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo), who is wanted for the murder of a police officer. Michel is determined to have Patricia run away to Rome with him, and he spends a couple days bumping around Paris, avoiding detectives and trying eke out cash from whoever will give him the time of day. Patricia also wanders Paris, pondering the many options and choices her life ahead has in store for her.
Seberg's performance is delicate, funny, and introspective. Godard largely had his actors improvise the scenes. He was frequently coming up with new ideas on set, and writing the scenes the morning before filming. What resulted are some really genuine sequences between Seberg and Belmondo; they flirt, they laugh, they fight, and they discuss life.
Unfortuntely, Seberg herself had a fairly sad life. A number of personal problems almost derailed her career, and in the 1970s the FBI concocted a plot to discredit her due to her outspoken political and anti-war views. She also lost a child and had several problematic marriages. In 1979, she disappeared and was found dead in her car several days later at the age of young age of 39. It was largely thought to be a suicide.
Seberg's tragic life makes her performance in A Bout de souffle just that much more powerful. Like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and other actors whose lives ended prematurely, there is something eerie and beautiful about her portrayal of Patricia. Patricia is in the same league as Agnes Varda's Cleo. She is ephemeral and she knows it. She looks at the world with curiosity even though she knows her experience is a fleeting one. Characters in the films of the French New Wave often have that fatalistic outlook. They suffer from ennui, a dissatisfaction with the world as it has been passed to them. They look around, they wander, and they examine their surroundings in a constant search for a meaning to their existence.
Along with Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows, A Bout de souffle is considered the beginning of the French New Wave--le nouvelle vague. These two films and the subsequent films of the movement are creative, fresh, innovative, and playful. The sensations of optimism and opportunity, of exploration and experimentation, are integral to many films of the movement. It was a genuine cry for more, a refusal to accept life as it is handed down, and it gave birth to generations of fascinating and inspiring cinema.