“Bravo, Monsieur Godard. That’s Real Furniture.”

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Published on September 6th, 2011 | by Matthew Minot-Scheuerman


From September 7-13, Film Forum will be showing the 1964 masterpiece “Band of Outsiders (Bande a part)” by French cinema master Jean-Luc Godard. The film is a lightweight, existential take on the lives of two gangsters, Franz and Arthur (Sami Frey and Claude Basseur) as they both pursue the same girl, Odile (Anna Karina) and hatch a plan to steal a large sum of money that Odile has told them about.

However, “Band of Outsiders” isn’t really about any of that, to call it a gangster film is to slander it and to reduce it to a single element that by its self is only a table on which the beauty and madness can be set. It is a trait common of many French New Wave films, films in which people sit around and talk and nothing happens, and yet everything happens! It is also important to remember that Godard himself called “Band of Outsiders” “Alice in Wonderland meets Franz Kafka.” That should give you some indication of the forces at work in this film, both above and below the surface.

That being said, “Band of Outsiders” is easily Godard’s most wholesome film (tongue slightly in cheek) simply because it lacks the overt political statements and more jarring Brechtian edits that would come to dominate his films in the latter half of the sixties. In “Band of Outsiders,” the political undertones are slight and above all casual, such as when Odile mentions to her aunt that her “boyfriend” Franz has dropped the English language classes they’re both taking because Franz thinks England is done for and it’s the Chinese who’ll win. Similarly, Godard’s Brechtian alienation technique is also employed in a more measured and, I would argue, more effective way. Consider, for example, the scene where Odile meets up with Franz and Arthur and calls out to Franz because she forgot Arthur’s name. Godard has Karina look directly into the camera and say pourquoi and in that instant the audience is jolted out of its safe zone. One word, one glance into the camera and then it’s over, the show continues on as before as if both the audience and the actors had known all along that we were only watching a film, created and captured on some rainy day outside of Paris in black and white 1964.

“Band of Outsiders,” at its heart, is a film that personifies youthfulness. In almost every scene that blessed spirit of “Do it because you can, do it because you’re young” asserts its self in the most unpretentious and endearing ways. It is there when Odile, Franz and Arthur share a minute of silence, when they dance the Madison dance and of course when they run through the Louvre. That spirit is in every longing glace Franz offers to Odile, it is there every time Arthur lights a new cigarette and disdainfully tosses the old one to the ground and it is there every time Odile smiles as if everything is going to turn out ok. It is the reason you can watch “Band of Outsiders” multiple times, the reason you can watch it forever and never lose one ounce of enjoyment.

So go this week to the Film Forum and see this film: see it for the Madison, see it for Anna Karina, but above all go and see it. Go with an uncluttered mind, an open heart and get ready to run through the Louvre.

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is a writer based in New York.

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