Band of Outsiders (1964) – Godard Retrospective

Original Title: Bande à part
Jean-Luc Godard
Writers: Jean-Luc Godard (screenplay), Dolores Hitchens (novel)
Actors: Anna Karina, Claude Brasseur, Daniele Girard
Rating: NR
Runtime: 95 min

Jean-Luc Godard has long been considered one of the most influential and revolutionary filmmakers in cinematic history. Godard’s films have become inextricably associated with the New Wave French film movement of the 1960s, and to celebrate his outstanding achievements, the TIFF Bell Lightbox has created a retrospective featuring his works from this particular era. Although many Godard films have become classics in their own right, each can be explored and appreciated for distinctive reasons.

As a film critic, Godard was unimpressed with mainstream French cinema, so he created his highly experimental pieces as an alternative. Much of his work challenged and rejected the conventions of filmmaking at the time, earning him a reputation as a radical; the inclusion of political and social opinions only helped to cement this status. Godard has become famous for his new and innovative techniques, such as the use of jump cuts – a film strategy previously considered the mark of an amateur. The beauty of Godard’s repertoire is that each offers its own experiment and is therefore unique in its style and approach.

Band of Outsiders

Band of Outsiders, adapted from Dolores Hitchens’ 1958 novel Fools’ Gold, is considered one of Godard’s most easily accessible works, and is therefore a good place to start. This film tells the tale of three teenagers, Franz (Sami Frey), Arthur (Claude Brasseur), and Odile (Anna Karina), who attempt to commit a robbery, with disastrous results. Sexual tension also abounds, as both males fall for the strikingly lovely young lady Odile, played by Godard’s wife Anna Karina.

The black and white filming of this movie does nothing to detract from the striking images presented. The young actors demonstrate an early easy camaraderie before the darkness sets in, and all play their parts intensely yet with subtlety. A disembodied voice narrates not only the actions of the characters, but their emotions as well, allowing the audience a valuable look into their thoughts and minds. The dry wit of this voice calls to mind the narrators of Wes Anderson cinematic fame, and one cannot help but wonder at Godard’s influence on said director.

Band of Outsiders

Although entirely unnecessary for other Godard works, Band of Outsiders benefits from a conventional narrative and a linear plot. The scenes are long, and the piece has the feel of a grand novel due to this deliberate pacing and the aforementioned narration, gesturing back to the film’s literary origins. Godard carefully reveals only that which he wishes within this work, and he does so slowly and deliberately. Like the young males’ seduction of their friend Odile, this film is alluring, yet in a forceful and slightly unsettling manner.

Quentin Tarantino, a legendary filmmaker in his own right, has been highly influenced by the works of Godard; indeed, his production company A Band Apart takes its name from the French version of the film’s title. At one point, the narrator decides that he will “let the images speak for themselves.”  With this film, Godard taught early New Wave French filmmakers how to do just that, and his influence carries on into today. A simple film, Band of Outsiders is powerful nonetheless.