Even after six films following his celebrated Nouvelle-Vague debut 'Band of Outsiders' finds Godard at his hippest, frolickiest, cool, witty and irreverent – a postmodernness which bleeds formally into the seminal early work of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino.
Band of Outsiders (1961) dir. Jean-Luc Godard
Starring: Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur
By Alan Bacchus
It’s not hard to see the affable and self-aware wannabe thieves Franz (Frey) and Arthur (Brasseur) cut from the same cloth as Jules and Vincent of Pulp Fiction, Johnny Boy and Charlie in Mean Streets, or even for that matter, Bonnie and Clyde. Early on we see the swinging duo driving recklessly around town living their own world, role playing Hollywood gangsters shooting each other up in the middle of the road. In Godard’s world even within the reality of 1960’s Paris his characters exists inside their own heads in their own films.
Franz and Arthur’s scheme is to steal a stash of money hidden in a wealthy couple’s villa, using the beautiful but impressionable Odile (Karina) as the insider. The ramifications of such a plan never enter their minds, in part because the adventurousness and indestructibility of youth armed with the sociopolitical enpowerment of the 60’s, and in Godard’s case with the rose-coloured glasses of Hollywood’s dream factory. Thus Franz and Arthur are living a dream.
Complicating their blissful escapism are the real-world feelings of jealousy and envy for Odile. Even these jokers can’t escape love and desire. As typical for the Godardian muse, Karina plays Odile with a demure allure, a strong sexual attraction by the nature of her bashfulness and childlike naiviety. She’s not yet aware of her power of her sexuality but both Franz and Arthur passively compete for her. Eventually the pair of theives will turn one on another resulting in a violent finale ending the life of one of the boys in the manner in which they playacted earlier before.
Godard’s plotting is perfunctory to the experience of the picture. The best moments of Band of Outsiders exist in between the beats of the narrative. Ms. Karina frolickling like school girl to and from home, the trio running through the Louvre in record time, or the delightful café dance sequence which exists in the film, ‘just because.’
This scene brings to mind Pulp Fiction’s Jack Rabbit slim’s dance sequence which runs on longer than it needs to ‘just because’. Same with the sloppy hand-to-hand fight scene between Arthur and the suspicious neighbours, which recalls Martin Scorsese’s memorable pool hall fight scene in Mean Streets. And perhaps it’s stretching, but we can’t help but see some Taxi Driver in the scene of Franz/Arthur examining their gun with enraptured wide eyes.
This is Godard at his most clever and infectious. Whether it's the moment Anna Karina briefly turns to the camera (and the audience) and says, “we have a plan” or the ostentious 'minute of silence' we knows Godard's tapped into the pulse of his audience and cinema in general because it feels just right.
Band of Outsiders is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection