Two crooks with a fondness for old Hollywood B-movies convince a languages student to help them commit a robbery.
“All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.”
“One of his most famous works is undoubtedly Bande à Part, a crime film that actually is not a crime movie at all. (...) The examples of this classic are known: after ten minutes a voice over resumes the story for those who have arrived too late, there is the classic four minutes dance scene, which was filmed in one shot (and later copied by Tarantino in Pulp Fiction), the scene in which the three protagonists are running through the Louvre museum in one minute (also done by Bertolucci, in The Dreamers) or that famous scene, in which the actors suddenly ask for silence and Godard switches off the soundtrack for one minute.”
“The viewer almost expects them to never go through with the robbery; nursing competing crushes on Odile, the men seem to be more comfortable in their imaginations than in the real world. They drive recklessly and aimlessly in a Simca convertible with the top pulled down, noir wannabes in an environment of uninspiring late-winter gray. Thanks to cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s superb black-and-white camerawork, Paris looks cold and empty, as though it were a resort town closed for the season.
Band Of Outsiders contains some of the medium’s most sublime images of the anything-goes possibility of youth, but it also captures the hopelessness and loneliness of being young with nothing to do. Whether they’re planning a crime or performing an impromptu dance routine, the trio is mostly motivated by boredom, and everything carries a tinge of personal darkness; after all, these are men named after writers who died young (Franz Kafka, Arthur Rimbaud), trying to seduce a young woman played by the director’s wife – who attempted suicide during pre-production, and came to the set straight from the hospital – and named after his mother, who had died in an accident a decade earlier. Artistic failure, death, and ruined relationships are heavy themes to smuggle into a deconstructed caper comedy that was supposed to be Godard’s most commercial project since his groundbreaking debut, Breathless.”
“It’s as if a French poet took an ordinary banal American crime novel and told it to us in terms of the romance and beauty he read between the lines; that is to say, Godard gives it his imagination, recreating the gangsters and the moll with his world of associations – seeing them as people in a Paris cafe, mixing them with Rimbaud, Kafka, Alice in Wonderland. Silly? But we know how alien to our lives were those movies that fed our imaginations and have now become part of us. And don’t we – as children and perhaps even later – romanticize cheap movie stereotypes, endowing them with the attributes of those figures in the other arts who touch us imaginatively? Don’t all our experiences in the arts and popular arts that have more intensity than our ordinary lives, tend to merge in another imaginative world? And movies, because they are such an encompassing, eclectic art, are an ideal medium for combining our experiences and fantasies from life, from all the arts, and from our jumbled memories of both. The men who made the stereotypes drew them from their own scrambled experience of history and art – as Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht drew Scarface from the Capone family “as if they were the Borgias set down in Chicago.””
“A love of the cinema desires only cinema, whereas passion is excessive: it wants cinema, but it also wants cinema to become something else, it even longs for the horizon where cinema risks being absorbed by dint of metamorphosis, it opens up its focus onto the unknown. In the early years of cinema, filmmakers believed that the art that they were inventing would be a resounding success, that it would play an incredible social role, that it would save the other arts and would contribute towards civilizing the human race, etc. For Gance and for Eisenstein, nothing had been decided. For Stroheim or the young Buñuel, on the face of it, nothing was impossible. The evolution of cinema had not yet been indexed to the evolution of the Hollywood studio talkies, the war effort, the introduction of quality criteria (which, with hindsight, make studio productions look like the hand-crafted harbingers of industrial TV movies). As soon as that happened, the future of cinema was no longer anybody’s passion (even on a theoretical level). It was only after the war, after the early warning signs of an economic recession, followed by the New Wave kamikaze patch-up job, that the idea of another cinema, one that would open on to something else, was possible again.
Possible, yes, but no longer with the conquering optimism of the early years (“you’ve seen nothing yet, cinema will be the art of the century”). Instead, it is accompanied by a lucidity tinged with nostalgia (“we’ve seen many films, cinema has indeed proved itself to be the art of the century, but the century’s almost over.”) There is an awareness that for a moment a perfect balance was struck (with Hawks, for instance), but that trying to reproduce it would be pointless, that new media are emerging, and that the material nature of the image is mutating. What is ambiguous about Godard, as well as his New Wave friends, is that his cinema straddles this change of direction. In a way, he knows too much.”
- 1. Didier Becu, “Bande à part”, Peek a boo, March 2015.
- 2. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, ”Jean-Luc Godard's perenially cool Band of Outsiders returns to theaters”, AV Club, May 2016.
- 3. Pauline Kael, “Godard Among the Gangsters”, The New Republic, September 1966.
- 4. Serge Daney, ”The Godard Paradox”, Revue Belge du Cinéma, 1986, translation from Forever Godard, ed. Michael Temple, James S. Williams and Michael Witt (Black Dog Publishing, 2004).