Movie Review: Band of Outsiders

Band of Outsiders1964. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Starring Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur.

I don’t pretend to fully understand what Godard was trying to say with this enthusiastic exercise in film, but I love watching the results. I think I like this film more than Breathless, his earlier and better-known film also portraying a criminal who seems more-than-usually inspired by American gangsters.

Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) are small-time crooks on the trail of a big score, with the help of their English-language classmate Odile (Anna Karina, who happens to be Godard’s wife). They case the house where Odile lives and where a huge stash of cash stolen from the government has been hidden. The plan seems to be secondary to their less-than-passionate fight for the affection of Odile. They talk her into skipping class, hang out in bars, stage fake gunfights in the street, and simply mug for the camera.

Godard seems patient in getting to the action, too, and this is my favorite part of the film. In fact, he seems more interested in playing with numerous rules of filmmaking: at one point, Odile suggests that the trio acknowledge a moment of silence, and the film actually goes silent for a few beats, just long enough to make you wonder how long he’ll dare to perform the trick. This leads directly into the film’s most-loved scene, the three characters dancing the Madison. If this is improvised — and even if it’s not — it’s fantastic to watch. In fact, every little trick and joke is fun to watch: Odile suddenly addressing the camera, sticking her tongue out (as in “French kissing”) at Arthur’s request, the trio racing through the Louvre in an attempt to beat a world record set by an American.

Eventually, Godard gets back to the crime caper and, as they always do, it goes wrong and gives everyone a chance at a shootout with exaggerated, dramatic death scenes, just like those in the B-movies these characters seem to draw from in their exaggerated lives.

I may have said this a dozen times or more in the short history of this blog, but didn’t everything look better in the recent past? Paris, even as cold looking as it appears in Band of Outsiders, seems real and comfortable and exciting. Everything, from the convertible the trio cruise around in to the bar in which they keep switching seats before jumping up and racing to the dance floor, seems so cool although coolly normal. And with the exception of Marika Green in the equally terrific Pickpocket, Anna Karina must be the most beautiful French woman on film, with those huge eyes and worried frown and “old-fashioned” pigtails. I’ll never tire of seeing her throw on a Fedora and stroll between her two lovers, snapping her fingers.

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