Jean-Luc Godard's "Band of Outsiders" -- A Brief Analysis


                                     After 1963's "Contempt", Godard chose to film another irrelevant, pulpy crime thriller on the streets of Paris.  Nominally based on a novel called "Fool's Gold", "Bande a Part" (1964) was said to be shot on a tight schedule (less than four weeks). The film was also the first production of Godard and his frequent collaborator Karina's new company called "Anouchka."

                                     Alongside Truffaut's "Shoot the Piano Player", Godard's "Band of Outsiders" is considered to be highly unconventional takes on the crime genre. With 'criminals' as the lead character, both these movies has an interest more in digressions, incidental occurrences and gestures rather than the grand machinations of plot. Still, "Band of Outsiders" has a quintessential genre scenario (the big heist) and is brimful of crime iconography. 

                                   The film starts with two petty crooks -- Arthur and Franz -- cruising the streets of Paris. Before they have shared more than a few words, they spot Oldie, a young woman who Franz has grown close to over the previous two weeks. They drive on through the suburbs and reach the house where Oldie lives with her aunt Victoria. Her aunt's friend, Mr. Stolz, has apparently amassed quite a fortune in cash. Having cased the joint, the two crooks attend an English lesson back in town, where they meet up with Oldie. 

                                After class, Arthur and Franz quiz Odile about Stolz's money. She finds herself bullied into taking part in a heist at her aunt's house. The following morning, Arthur's suspicious uncle makes Arthur promise to undertake the heist without Franz or Odile. Arthur placates them, but then swiftly brings the date for the job forward and tells the others it must happen that night. 

                            Franz, played by Sami Frey, has the angular face of a criminal and is also dressed for the part, with his cocked hat, double-breasted over-sized jacket and raincoat. He leaves a film noir shadow wherever he goes. Like Breathless's Michel Poiccard (lead character), Franz is playing the role of the gangster, informed from his love for American thrillers. 


                          Similarly, Godard's direction has been influenced by the film noir style. As well as the chiaroscuro lighting effects and edgy close-ups of characters' faces (including, at one point, even the face on Stolz's hidden banknotes), much of the framing comes straight out of American B-movies. A notable example is the recurrent shot of Franz and Arthur, as seen from behind, in their car. 

                               There are many parallels to the other New Wave films. Truffaut's "Jules and Jim" and Godard's own "A Woman is a Woman" are evoked by the central love triangle. "Band of Outsiders" also shares "A Woman is a Woman's" sense of play, particularly in the musical sequence. Several quirky comic touches, such as the antics of the liquor-swigging older student in the English class and the central trio's sprint around the Louvre.

                            Godard gleefully speeds up sequences in "Band of Outsiders" and much of the humor relies on physical comedy, such as Franz and Arthur's exaggerated bad-guy swagger and stylized shoot-out scenes. The film is famous for the stylish set piece in which the three leads share a dance routine in a cafe. Godard stops the music intermittently to give us insight into what the characters are thinking during the scene. The dance scene influenced Uma Thurman and John Travolta's boogie in Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction." The characters in Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" race through the Louvre and beat the record set by Odile, Franz and Arthur.


                             
                                 There are lot of In-jokes in the film too: After five minutes the narrator (Godard himself) offers a "clue for latecomers" and sums up the plot so far. Towards the film's close he tells us, "My story ends here like a dime novel." Aunt Victoria's comment to Odile ("I hope you go to class and not to the movies") is surely a reference to Godard's student days.

                               There's so much to savor in this fresh, funny and effortless likable film, not least the strong performances of the leads, especially the ever-impressive Karina. The title sequence itself is a work of art. Ultimately, Godard's "Band of Outsiders" is cool, witty and utterly irresistible.

Band of Outsiders -- IMDb

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