REVIEW: Bande à part [Band of Outsiders] [1964]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 95 minutes | Release Date: August 5th, 1964 (France)
Studio: Columbia Films / Royal Films International / Rialto Pictures
Director(s): Jean-Luc Godard
Writer(s): Jean-Luc Godard / Dolores Hitchens (novel)

“Everything that is new is thereby already traditional”

When it comes to a film by Jean-Luc Godard, it may be better for you to go in with eyes wide, ready to go on a journey of surrealism and cerebral craziness instead of one tied to a strict plot. Bande à part [Band of Outsiders] is a perfect example of this as the story itself, loosely based on an American pulp novel, is very slight and acts only as a framework for the events occurring. Two classmates learning English strike up a friendship, she tells about the stolen government cash at the house where she lives, he tells his friend, and the three decide to pull a heist and get out of the city. Most of the film consists of the waiting and botched attempts at getting the job done. You can see a lot of influence for Quentin Tarantino here and just as his films rely on conversation to fill the empty space, Godard does the same. Whether it be reading the newspaper, having air gun battles with each other, formulating their plan at a diner table where they even partake in a minute of true/complete silence, these kids are your everyday normal young adults, figuring out ways to entertain each other, falling in love, and getting talked into doing bad things.

The heist aspect is never at the forefront though. What the characters do on the way to that inevitable conclusion makes the film interesting. Loudly passing notes in English class; impromptu dance moves at the diner, alternating between moments of music and others devoid of that soundtrack for only the noise they create; and running through the Louvre to break a record for fastest viewing are just a few of the eccentric things that go on. Chock full of inside jokes and nods to his industry friends and peers, Godard creates a world that, while steeped in reality, truly resides on an alternate level of consciousness. Just the fact that it is narrated throughout lends a manufactured feel. When you are told early on that if you missed the beginning you only have to know a few things, promptly recited to you, and when it ends you are sales-pitched on a sequel that does not exist, you will realize what you are seeing is not any ordinary piece of work. What boggles the mind then is that it was shot in 1964, doing things that had not been done in cinema before, yet are now so commonplace you don’t even think twice.

Much like Tarantino has appropriated from this film, the characters themselves do the same thing for films they have seen. Basing the entire heist on the fact that it works in the movies and they can do it just as good comments on how cinema has begun to influence the world’s youth. It is all a game to the two men, devoid of the stakes that exist right in front of their faces. Never fully fleshing out any real plan, they fly by the seat of their pants, relying on the girl’s insights to be truths and as a result are very sloppy. They don’t work out escape plans, what will happen if the door is locked, or care that Arthur, the brains behind the operation once Franz tells him the situation at Odile’s house, has told his uncle the plan and said to be there after it is all done. Double-crosses aplenty at the end, but once again, this is “real” life and Arthur never anticipates the severity of what he is doing and how much greed can influence someone into doing whatever it takes to come out the winner.

Our trio is very naïve and partakes in a strange love triangle made up of a mix of love, lust, necessity, and information retrieval and sharing. Each is using the other for their own means with none realizing the lies and deceit until they are in the midst of the robbery itself. By then it is too late.

For me, the true brilliance lies in the craft of the work itself. The sound editing at moments like the dancing in the diner are unlike anything, jarring you out of your comfort zone, telling you that what you see has been manufactured and manipulated rather then attempt to create a world to escape to. While watching, you never lose the grasp of the world you are actually in. This is a work of art making itself visible to you; it is not a story to be transported into. Seeing a sequence of Odile singing a song and actually looking right into the camera at we the audience shows the breaking of the fourth wall and insists blatantly that we are viewing artistry, not seeing a glimpse into the film’s own world.

Credit the acting for its natural feel and gritty realism. Anna Karina is beautiful; showing at all times her shy sexuality, drawing men in without even trying. She is playing with the boys because she thinks they are playing with her. Always looking for a way out, they keep forcing her back into being an accomplice, something not quite kosher with her sensibilities, but on she treks, following every step of the way. Sami Frey, as Franz, is constantly brooding, acting as though he is in total control, unafraid of anything. Karina even mentions on a couple occasions that he scares her with his tenacity. While we see him break into smile every now and then, the others believe his façade as stoic power. As for Arthur, played by Claude Brasseur, he is the one grown up in an abusive house, always looking for the big score. Willing to do whatever it takes, his nonchalance and calm demeanor lull his friends into his trap, leading them to do the work while he reaps the benefits. That is until the conclusion when the charade becomes real and the kids realize that they have not been playing a game at all.

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