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Band of Outsiders   A

The Criterion Collection

Year Released: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Writer: Jean-Luc Godard (based on the novel Fools' Gold by Dolores Hitchens)
Cast: Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur.

Review by Gabe Leibowitz

Early in Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders (Bande à part), we see Arthur (Claude Bresseur) standing in the stairwell outside a classroom, trying to convince Odile (Anna Karina) to drop her school course and assist him and Franz (Sami Frey) in robbing her own household. Rather than recoil at the suggestion, Odile sees it as a potential salvation from her drab existence in Madame Victoria's residence. With subtle resentment evident in her voice, Odile says, "Madame Victoria wants me to learn a practical trade. She wants me to be a nurse. But I don't want to." During the final sentence, Godard slyly focuses the camera on Odile sitting on the stairs, holding the railing's grate as if they were prison bars. The shot perfectly captures her feelings of social imprisonment. Godard's first few films (Breathless, My Life to Live, etc.) frequently focus on self-liberation, and Band of Outsiders smoothly continues the trend. In an era where poor heist films and spoofs of heist films (such as Snatch) are the primary contributors to the genre, it's refreshing how well Band of Outsiders holds up today. It's an exhilarating experience.

Band of Outsiders progresses quickly, but still crams a great deal of development and mood swings into its 95-minute running time. Odile's orgasmic excitement for these daring men and their plot is accompanied by an underlying fear that she's fucking up the secure life she has back home. Arthur's frenetic nature and Franz' sporadic brooding rhythmically complement her confusion, creating believable relationships. The exception is the romance between Odile and Arthur, which smells phony due to it consummating in about 14 seconds. Fortunately, though, it never threatens to disrupt the primary themes. Unlike Truffaut's Jules and Jim, where the central characters' love triangle is so ludicrous that it destroys the entire narrative structure, Band of Outsiders only requires brushing reality aside for a few brief moments. The epilogue supports the notion that Godard himself isn't taking love seriously here.

At the film's halfway point, there's a wonderful scene in a diner where the entire soundtrack shuts down for a "moment of silence." No voices, music, or background noise. Uneasiness grasps the screen, breeding tension and curiosity. Immediately afterwards, Franz, Odile, and Arthur begin dancing in the center of the diner. Godard's exact intentions here aren't fully clear to me, but I think he's trying to illustrate the characters' burning desire for intense independence. Backing up this theory is the mirroring scene later on, when the three companions sprint through the Louvre at full gallop. It's an electric few minutes, filled with rebellious behavior that screams of self-doubt and a desire to quench it. The silence in the diner is the yin to the trio's usual yang.

Godard serves as narrator, injecting Band of Outsiders with a voice-over that rarely feels intrusive, if never fully necessary either. During the dance scene, however, Godard "takes a digression to tell us the heroes' feelings." Arthur visualizes kissing Odile. Odile wonders if "the boys" notice her breasts bouncing in her sweater -- the coy usage of "boys," and the image in general reinforces her breathless view on the entire affair. And Franz, the most somber of the group, thinks of "everything and nothing. He wonders if the world is becoming a dream." These thought processes forge the identities; Arthur and Odile go off together that evening, leaving Franz with only solitude for company. But an evening doesn't equal a lifetime, and the character progressions confirm it. The performances punctuate these themes; Karina exuberantly carries the show, while Bresseur and Frey are strong in their more restrained roles.

Quentin Tarantino has often proclaimed his adoration for Band of Outsiders -- his company is called A Band Apart -- and it's easy to see the stylistic similarities in his work. In fact, Godard concludes the picture with the following narration:

"My story ends here, like in a pulp novel, at that superb moment when nothing weakens, nothing wears away, nothing wanes."

It seems that Pulp Fiction's birthday is actually in 1964, not 1994 as its IMDb date may lead you to believe.

Review published 07.30.2003.

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