Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Classic Throwback: Bande A Part (Jean-Luc Godard, 1964)

Considered to be one of Jean-Luc Godard’s lighter, faster-paced and more accessible films, the incredibly hip Bande A Part (or Band of Outsiders) is adapted from a crime novel titled Fool’s Gold by Dolores Hitchen. The film’s immense cultural and cinematic influence is unmistakable, with Quentin Tarantino using the film’s title for the name of his production company. It is also interesting to note that the infamous Madison dance sequence in the diner was also the influence behind the one in Pulp Fiction.

The story is simple and not dissimilar to Breathless, though both films are certainly unique in their own way. Two young delinquents, Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur), with fantasies of criminal glory, conspire to commit a robbery and enlist the help of Odile (Anna Karina), a beautiful young woman they meet in English language class. The targets are Odile’s wealthy relatives. She lives with her Aunt Victoria and a Mr. Stoltz in a villa in Joinville, where she declares a large amount of money is stashed. When Odile sneaks into Stoltz’s room to sight the money she leaves suspicious evidence behind, prompting Stoltz to hide the money and change the locks, unbeknownst to Odile and the others when they finally attempt the heist.

The robbery attempts are both hilariously amateur and suspenseful, as we sense their desperation mounting and fear for their escape, with the events culminating in a violent shootout (shocking and effective, and oddly mirroring Franz and Arthur’s early recreation of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid). Events get complicated when both men try and seduce Odile (and it becomes an awkward love triangle where feelings get in the way of their professionalism) and when Arthur’s uncle learns of the plot and decides to commit the robbery himself, prompting the young trio to put their plans in place faster than they initially hoped. What transforms this film into a memorable one are the quirky set pieces (Arthur’s seduction methods on the stairs outside their classroom, Odile’s method of crossing the river, and the muddy construction site where Franz drives around madly) and scenes that separate the scheming and the robbery.

With their naïve and deluded plans already set the trio kill time. Odile is nervous and frightened, but tingling with excitement, while the men are over-confident and certainly not as smooth or capable as the film characters they aspire to be. Arthur has been more successful in seducing Odile and the pair spends time together. Arthur and Franz feverishly read through crime scene accounts from the daily tabloid, they awkwardly sit in silence (literally) at cafes and decide to try and break the world record of circumnavigating the louvre with a mad dash through the halls. All of these scenes have become iconic in film culture.

The highlight of the film was this Madison sequence. In a quaint diner, the trio, who now have nothing to talk about, agree to have a minute of complete silence. Godard, the narrator throughout, revealing what the characters are thinking at times and at one point recaps on what has happened for those who “arrived late and missed the beginning”, also ceases the soundtrack – so no score or background noise from the diner.

The characters only sit in silence for 35 seconds (though it feels like a minute at least) before deciding to start an impromptu (but well choreographed, but not enough to eliminate the ‘spur of the moment’ feel) Madison sequence. It actually wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the characters performed it for the first time together on the spot, and that it was the one and only take. The scene continues for several minutes, before the men get bored and exit the floor leaving Anna Karina alone to continue the steps by herself. During this scene, my eyes never left Karina, and it really is startling how alluring a screen presence she is.

Sure, I have revealed nothing particularly new about this celebrated classic, but what more needs to be said. Utilizing stylistic flourishes, as only Godard knows how – including several long takes and the occasional jump cut – this is pure fun. It’s not meant to require too much thinking, though recognizing the influence and deciphering just how much work the performers put into making their characters unique and human, is a thrill. As always, Mrs. Godard is the alluring centerpiece. I know I will enjoy this one again and again. Up next is Peirrot Le Fou.


  1. I do love this film. It's just so much fun to watch. In fact, here is a great tribute of that dance scene from The Go-Getter starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Zooey Deschanel, and my muse Jena Malone.

  2. This is the first (and so far, only) Godard movie I have seen, and I agree with you. The best scenes are definitely the ones disconnected from the plot.

    If you have access to the Criterion Collection version of the film, I think you would really enjoy the interview with the cinematographer.

  3. This film is so awesome. The first time I saw it, and noticed all the influences for Pulp Fiction, I nearly went giddy with excitement.

    My favourite scene is the dance. I tried learning it even :P

  4. Love this one. A really enjoyable, essential New Wave classic, however lacking the wisdom and brilliance of VIVRE SA VIE. That minute of silence was perfect, and the Madison dance sequence has to be one of the best scenes of the 60s, so I'm not complaining.

  5. A reminded that Godard is simply a lot of fun to watch. His anarchy against the traditional rules of cinema is not simply him being a rebel, but a way to craft something new, exciting and fun.

  6. Good one Andy. Fun is the key word here. No deep underlying meaning, just a girl and a gun, and youthful breaking of rules for the heck of it.

  7. @ Steven - I have never heard of this film. It seems recent. It's a nice little tribute to Godard and the film, but I have watched the Bande A Part scene countless times since. Few scenes can compare.

    @ Brian - You should check out more of his work. All of the 1959-67 work (so far) is pretty amazing. I own the DVD edition, but if I ever find the film on sale on Criterion, I'll look into it. Raoul Coutard is a genius and worked on lots of Godard's films. I'm sure it would be really interesting.

    @ Nikhat - I knew about how the film influenced Tarantino, but not for the dance scene. I love the Pulp Fiction one, but there is something so hip about this one. I bet so many people have jumped up and done an impromptu dance sequence in the middle of diners (and run through the Louvre) following this film.

    @ Tyler - Yeah, I'm finding it hard to pick out a favourite so far. They are all enjoyable in their own way. This has some classic moments that make it unique and fun - but it wasn't as powerful as Vivre sa vie or as groundbreaking in French New Wave as Breathless, or as cheeky as Contempt. But, there is an argument it's more watchable and fun than all of them.

    @ James - For sure. He has tried to be a rebel (and succeeded pretty well, I think) but that hasn't got in the way of him trying to tell a story, push the boundaries of cinematic style and technique and invent something enjoyable.

    @ BonjourT - Thanks for reading. Sums up Godard's philosophy pretty well, this one.

  8. Easily my favorite Godard of all! In fact, it's my #3 film of all time. :) It's been interesting watching you go through his filmography - you latched on to most of his films much faster than I did. I'd seen Breathless and Contempt at least before seeing this one, and didn't really care for them that much. Then I saw Band of Outsiders, and everything about Godard suddenly clicked. Even so, some of his films still require two or three viewings for me to fully connect with. Not this one, though. This was love at first sight. Even the banner on my personal site is Anna Karina in this movie. :)

  9. Prior to this string of Godard I had seen Masculine Feminine and Pierrot Le Fou, so I had some idea what he is about (and I did love Masculine Feminine). So when I saw Breathless I knew a little about his style - and how it had evolved and changed in his later films, and why it was so influential back in '59. Vivre sa vie took me a couple of days to process, but scenes kept sticking out in my mind. Something clicked about 2/3 of the way through Contempt. I had almost given up on it, but then I connected all the ideas together - and having found out Godard's own pressures at the time, I ended up respecting it even more. This one I also liked a lot on first viewing, and I'm glad to hear that you also find it one of your favourite films. Thanks for reading Jandy. Always appreciate your comments.