Stylish and radical, this free-wheeling Godard film is entertaining and impossibly cool.
Dir. Jean-Luc Godard
1964 | France | Comedy/Crime/Drama | 95 mins | 1.37:1 | French & English
PG (passed clean) for some mature themes
Cast: Anna Karina, Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey
Plot: Two crooks with a fondness for old Hollywood B-movies convince a language student to help them commit a robbery.
Awards: Official Selection (Locarno)
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Loose
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray – first published 17 Jun 2015)
Very much an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino, particularly his film Pulp Fiction (1994), Band of Outsiders showed him (and lovers of cinema) the medium’s possibilities of expressing the impossibly cool. Made during Jean-Luc Godard’s golden patch that was the sixties, Band of Outsiders came after the critical success of French New Wave poster boy Breathless (1960), Vivre sa vie (1962) and Contempt (1963).
While I have not seen enough of Godard yet to judge which of his pictures resonate with me most, Band of Outsiders is all the rage for me at the moment. A stylish reinterpretation of the gangster robbery film, Godard pulls the rabbit out of his cinematic hat by circumventing the traditional notion of narrative cinema – like Breathless, he plays around with film language both visually and aurally, and I would like to think that it is even more radical than the 1960 hit.
The main trio of characters, Odile, Franz and Arthur (as played by Anna Karina, Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur respectively) provides screen chemistry and energy inherent in their performances, which I would describe collectively as one marked by a rebellious spontaneity. It is fun to see the film moving along so freely, capturing the uncontained spirit of the nouvelle vague.
“A minute of silence can last a long time… a whole eternity.”
In one of cinema’s coolest sequences, the trio performs the ‘Madison dance’ in tandem, but through Godard’s voiceover, each character becomes psychologically exposed. It is this playing out of internal desire and conflict paired with the hypnotic nature of their physical dance that continue to rein us in. I would like to think of the sequence as the best singular expression of how the nouvelle vague feels like – it is easy to find words to define the French New Wave, but much harder to articulate how it feels.
Band of Outsiders also features some breathtaking cinematography work by the legendary Raoul Coutard, as he shoots the characters against the backdrop of mid-sixties outskirt Parisian life. The innocent and gullible Odile, forced to assist Franz and Arthur in a robbery (in her own home), is often seen running along paths, some natural, some man-made, as she makes her way to various rendezvous points.
It is the trek of a young woman who is coming-of-age in matters of romance, choices and responsibilities. On the other hand, Franz and Arthur are usually seen in their open-top automobile as they drive around in circles, sometimes literally – confused in their restless quest to win the heart of Odile… and to win at life. While Breathless changed cinema as we know it, Band of Outsiders is its more entertaining and refined cousin, but no less influential.