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Femme Fatales | Jean Seberg

The “Femme Fatale” segment on NoirWhale.com is designed to highlight the life and merits of exceptional film noir actresses. These women are the embodiment of the femme fatale archetype, and propel possibly the most recognizable and integral theme in the noir genre.

Femme Fatales Jean Seberg

November 13, 1938- August 30, 1979 (via the60livehere.tumblr.com)

“Money doesn`t buy happiness. But happiness isn`t everything.”

Jean Seberg was born on November 13th, 1938 in Marshalltown Iowa to working class parents. Her mother was a substitute teacher, and her father was a pharmacist. She didn’t make her film debut until 1957, when she appeared in Saint Joan after being discovered by Otto Preminger (who conducted a $150,000 dollar talent search). She said of the experience:

“I have two memories of Saint Joan. The first was being burned at the stake in the picture. The second was being burned at the stake by the critics. The latter hurt more. I was scared like a rabbit and it showed on the screen. It was not a good experience at all. I started where most actresses end up.”

After facing considerable criticism for her acting in the States, she spent time filming overseas; most notably her roles in the French New Wave. She most famously appeared as Patricia in Godard’s Breathless (1960) opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo. The film went on to become an international success, and she was praised worldwide for her performance. This notoriety led to her continued work in the genre, opening up many pleasing offers that otherwise would have remained closed to her in the U.S..

What happened next is a matter of great debate: At the height of her fame, she suddenly stopped acting in Hollywood. Many point to a FBI smear campaign that was directed at Jean because of the great financial support she offered various Civil Rights groups (NAACP, The Black Panthers, Mesquaki Bucks). Other potential reasons for the campaign were alleged interracial sexual relationships Jean was said to have had. From the wiki:

“The FBI operation against Seberg used COINTELPRO program techniques to harass, intimidate, defame and discredit the well-known actress. The FBI’s stated goal was an unspecified “neutralization” of Ms. Seberg; all intended to be done while hiding FBI involvement. One stated FBI subsidiary objective was to “cause her embarrassment and serve to cheapen her image with the public,” while taking the “usual precautions to avoid identification of the Bureau.” FBI strategy and modalities can be found in FBI inter-office memos, since declassified and released to the public under FOIA.”

In 1970, when Ms. Seberg was pregnant, the FBI created a false story that the child she was carrying was actually fathered by a member of The Black Panther party and not her then husband Romain Gary. She gave birth to an infant girl named Nina, who died after only 2 days. Jean held an open casket burial so that onlookers would see the child’s white skin and put the rumors to rest. According to those closest to Jean, she suffered years of intimidation, break-ins, wiretapping, and tailing by FBI operatives. In one document released to the public, Ms. Seberg is referred to as “the alleged promiscuous and sex-perverted white actress.”

With such a body of horrifying evidence before us, it’s difficult to believe that the FBI had nothing to do with the suspicious circumstances surrounding her death. In August 1979, she went missing for eleven days. She was eventually found dead in the back of her car, parked outside her apartment in Paris. Her official cause of death was noted as an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol leading to suicide. A note was found in her hand that read, “Forgive me. I can no longer live with my nerves.” Questions have risen concerning the enormous alcohol levels in her blood and her lack of driving glasses as potential signs of foul play; for how could she have operated the vehicle? Why was she in the back seat?

Jean Seberg is a modern icon of style, and most definitely an incredible femme fatale. I feel so disgusted that she could be the victim of such bullying at the hands of an institution we currently uphold.

“I am taken up into all the beauty and terror. I am riding in blue-dust clouds.”

Jean Seberg

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Femme Fatale Jean Seberg

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Film Noir Jean Seberg

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Femme Fatales Jean Seberg

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Jean Seberg

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Jean Seberg and Dog

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Film Noir Jean Seberg

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Jean Seberg Fashion

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Breathless 1960

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Fashion Jean Seberg

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Jean Seberg Jean-Paul Belmondo

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French New Wave Jean Seberg

Breathless (1960) (via rockandrollfantasy.tumblr.com)

*All biographical details were obtained from : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Seberg

*All quotes were obtained from: http://quotes.lucywho.com/jean-seberg-quotes-t16737.html and http://violentwavesofemotion.tumblr.com/

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Film Noir | Breathless (1960)

I deeply apologize for being so inconsistent in my noir blogging lately. I’ve started a new job and the demands of a new routine have thrown me a bit off kilter, but I feel confident that I can regain a foothold of regularity and provide some delicious noir nuggets.

Film Noir Breathless Movie Poster

Breathless (1960) (via impawards.com)

The film noir Breathless (1960) (or À bout de souffle) was directed by Jean-Luc Godard and starred Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Much like Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie (1962), Breathless is considered a conspicuous work of the “french new wave”. I regret that I know very little about film history in general, but it pleases me to say that this piece adheres handsomely to many of my noir definition vertices.

The plot simply stated: A young car thief named Michel Poiccard (Belmondo) kills a police officer and attempts to persuade a lovely American girl named Patricia Franchini (Seberg) to flee with him.

Film Noir Breathless Jean-Paul Belmondo

Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) (via filmcigarettes.tumblr.com)

1) The Seedy Underworld

Summertime in Paris. The newsprint culture wrapped in a heatwave and the intrigue of a fugitive at large.

2) The Anti-Hero

Michel is the ultimate con-man. The swindler takes whatever he can get away with and his selfish hunger coupled with blind disregard is as endearing as it is infuriating. He’s perpetually inflated by his own arrogance and rewarded for his craft. He’s stuck in a nose dive that everyone can see but himself.

Film Noir Breathless Jean Seberg

Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg) (via talkamongstthetrees.tumblr.com)

3) The Femme Fatale

Patricia is an intelligent and beautiful American girl working for the Paris division of The New York Herald Tribune. She has a subtle history with Michel, and she is the only thing keeping him in a city that desires his demise. She truly is a wonderful femme fatale, for she is the ultimate cause of his untimely end.

“What is your greatest ambition in life?”
“To become immortal. And then die.”

4) Misogyny

The misogyny is this film noir primarily revolves around Patricia’s oblivity. She always suspects that Michel is not what he appears, but she doesn’t catch immediately. The final scene paints her as a dodo bird, beautiful but stupid. Additionally, we want to believe that Michel views her as more than a sexual conquest, but this feels a stretch at times.

“Two things matter in life. For men, it’s women, and for women, money.”

Film Noir Breathless Jean Seberg Jean-Paul Belmondo

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5) Redemption

Michel appears to feel no guilt for the crimes that he has committed, especially the murder. He is completely consumed by two motivations; Escape, and Patricia. It seems he believes redemption lies in her trust. If he can acquire it (and by default, her), then he can feel absolved as an exile.

6) Eroticism

The hotel scene in Breathless is one of the most satisfyingly erotic I’ve ever witnessed. It’s essentially a fencing match, a sparring of the sexes. Their verbal repartee volleys between desire and practicality, and exposes their souls. No nudity or sex actually takes place, but this scene serves as a prelude to their passion. It’s brilliant, iconic.

7) Loss of Innocence

The loss of innocence in this film noir is the twisted punchline before the “fin”. As Michel lies in his gore, dying from the fatal shot, Patricia stands above him in a stupor. She’s unwilling to acknowledge that she loved someone so wicked, unwilling to acknowledge that she caused his death.

“It’s silly, but I love you. I wanted to see you, to see if I’d want to see you.”

8 ) Racism


Film Noir Breathless Jean Seberg Jean-Paul Belmondo

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9) Smoke

The smoking in this film is the seductive punctuation to every line.

10) Emasculation

Michel is a very masculine individual and in all aspects of his life he’s a conqueror, until Patricia. As soon as he allows himself to be emasculated by her, he meets his end. Classic film noir.

“I always fall for girls who aren’t cut out for me.”

I absolutely adored this film. Breathless is a beautifully wrought film noir.

The Final Scene:

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Film Noir | Vivre Sa Vie (1962)

Vivre Sa Vie, or My Life to Live, is a tremendously well written and beautifully shot french film noir. Starring Anna Karina and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, the film is a bleak look into the life of a young Parisian woman who aspires to be an actress.  Her story is told in 12 scenes, and each is proceeded by a brief description.

Film Noir Vivre Sa Vie

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Nana (Anna Karina) leaves her husband and infant son to become an actress in Paris. A short time later she’s out of money, and making an insufficient wage working at a record shop. Her small circle of friends and family are quickly exhausted by her attempts to borrow, and she turns to prostitution. To expand her income further, she eventually partners with a pimp named Raoul. The film explores the success and moderate wealth she receives initially, but ultimately she’s unfulfilled. When she meets a man who pledges to support her, she goes to Raoul to quit. Unknown to Nana, the pimp has traded her to another man. The final scene is the exchange gone wrong, where she is gunned down in the misunderstanding.

Here’s the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The seedy underworld of Vivre Sa Vie is comprised of the dirty side of Paris; dingy hotel rooms, filthy streets, dark cinemas, and corner cafes.

Film Noir Vivre Sa Vie Anna Karina

Nana (via profundidadedecampo.tumblr.com)

2) The Anti-Hero

Nana is an excellent anti-hero, because we simultaneously hate, love, and pity her. We hate her for leaving her husband and newborn, we love her for her ambition, and we pity her for the depraved ends she’ll go to for her dream.

3) The Femme Fatale

Jean-Luc Godard created iconic and breathtaking femme fatale images in this film, but the script doesn’t include the traditional femme fatale archetype.

“It’s odd. Suddenly I don’t know what to say, it often happens to me. I know what I want to say. I think about whether it is what I mean, but when the moment comes to speak, I can’t say it.”

Film Noir Vivre Sa Vie Anna Karina

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4) Misogyny

Nana’s entire life revolves around the sexual appetites of men, and her death is caused by the manipulations of pimps. Noir misogyny is definitely present in Vivre Sa Vie.

5) Redemption

Nana believes that she will be redeemed by money and fame. Sadly, she is damned in their pursuit.

6) Eroticism

One section of the film noir is rather risque and erotic. A ‘John’ asks for a particular sexual act (the audience is left to imagine what it may be) and Nana says that she’ll see if any of the other girls are up for it. She then walks the halls of a hotel, peeking in various rooms where naked prostitutes are working. Finding a willing woman, they return to the man in Nana’s room. The camera angle sticks to her as the ‘John’ receives the act off screen. She asks if he wants her to undress, and he says no. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she smokes a cigarette and stares off into space.

Film Noir Vivre Sa Vie Anna Karina

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7) Loss of Innocence

The moment Nana loses her innocence is unsettling. She takes her first customer to a private room in a hotel, and they discuss the details of the arrangement. She doesn’t want to kiss him, but he forces himself upon her. Her desperation is a bleak reflection of the loss of control over her life’s trajectory.

8 ) Racism


Film Noir Vivre Sa Vie Nana and Raoul

Nana and Raoul (via thenouvellevague.tumblr.com)

9) Smoke

Some of the coolest smoking imagery in the genre. Raoul takes a long drag on a cigarette, kisses Nana, and she exhales the smoke: Awesome.

10) Emasculation

You could say that Raoul was threatened with emasculation when Nana came to him to quit, but he was already planning to trade her. He wasn’t emasculated by her at all.

Vivre Sa Vie is a french film noir that leaves a stone in your stomach. Volumes could be said about the genius of this script, the elegance of the cinematography, and the overall innovation of this film. All I will say is that it’s as dark and upsetting as they come.

Film Noir Vivre Sa Vie Anna Karina

"Give me a smile." (via ispyjarvis.tumblr.com)


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