BAND OF OUTSIDERS
Review by Michael Jacobson
Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Audio: Dolby Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: January 7, 2003
minute of silence can last an eternity.”
Jean-Luc Godard seemed unhappily out of his element in Contempt (a good
film even if it doesn’t fit well in the scope of his career), he was back in
true form and spirit with his next production, Band of Outsiders.
Forget Cinemascope, Technicolor, international stars and producers.
Here is a black and white, narrow framed look at three terrific
characters who are involved in a simplistic plot on one level, but speak volumes
of commentary about life, love, culture and philosophy on another.
been said that Godard was an entirely improvisational artist, but that’s not
entirely accurate. There was a
spontaneity about his work created by often last-minute scripting which kept
both cast and crew on their toes, and sometimes taking different approaches in
the editing room that seem to change the context of the film dramatically.
a device in this movie is his own personal narration added in the post
production. Characters on screen
simply moving from one place to another had voice given to thoughts and
perspective placed on their actions. The
most striking use of this device is during the most famous sequence, where the
three lead characters dance the Madison…occasionally while they dance, the
music drops down to silence, while Godard’s low key commentary suggests an
story is about a crime, but saying that is an oversimplification; it’s like
saying that Gone With the Wind is a movie about the Civil War.
It’s really only “about” a crime in the pure prepositional context;
the crime gives the film a map from point A to point B, while its restless
characters explore life, love, and eventually fear within the loose
constrictions of the plot.
Romeo and Juliet, of which a passage is read early on, this is a love
story, but not about a pair of young lovers whose great passion could not
overcome their social circumstances. Instead,
we have a triangle of three people in complete control of their destiny and
somewhat out of sync with the world around them.
Odile (Karina) envisions a perfect crime, and enlists two men who love
her, Arthur (Brasseur) and Franz (Frey) to assist.
By ripping off her rich aunt’s house, where an irresponsibly large
bundle of cash is easily accessible, their dreams can come true.
what are their dreams, exactly? It’s
hard to say…one only envisions the three moving from one state of boredom to
another, despite their talk of travel and other experiences.
And what of their romantic situation, especially when Odile’s loyalties
seem to be switching from the cold, handsome Arthur to the more sensitive and
the consummate experimenter and rebel against anything that had become
“standardized” in movie making, failed sometimes in his career, but
succeeded more often than not. In
his previous movie Contempt, he had the opening credits spoken instead of
printed. Here, they are back on
screen, but each name wraps around his or her occupation as though artist and
art were inseparable, the most notable example being “Jean-Luc Cinema
his script calls for a minute of silence, we get exactly that…a stretch of
film where the soundtrack is completely empty; what broadcast professionals
would call “dead air”. It’s
both amusing and a little unsettling. Though
the spirit may seem a little listless to first time viewers, you never know when
something unexpected will jump out at you, from a neon sign boldly proclaiming
the French New Wave to a simple collapsing of the so-called “fourth wall”,
when Odile is told of the need to make a plan, and she actually turns to the
camera, to US, and asks us why.
was crafting a new cinematic vocabulary for a new era of filmmaking, and his
influence can be easily identified in the pictures of today.
Quentin Tarantino even used the French title of this film, Bande A
Part, as the name of his production company!
New Wave still enjoys a resounding influence, some of the movement’s films
today are enjoyed mostly by cinema students.
A picture like Band of Outsiders might too easily try the patience
of modern mainstream audiences. It’s
a shame, because we get too used to having movies hand us everything they have
to offer, and we forget sometimes that the best gold needs to be panned for.
is a terrific offering from Criterion, who keeps giving film fans the best DVD
treatments of Godard’s works. The
black and white transfer is clean and crisp throughout, with well defined
images, a full range of rich, contrasting grayscale, solid blacks and clear
whites. The print is in terrific
condition; little if any aging artifacts mar the viewing experience. Only one brief night shot seemed a little murky and showed a
bit of residue from the negative, but apart from that, this is a first rate
offering that will definitely please Godard’s followers.
seldom give simple mono tracks this high a rating, but here’s a rare case
where a disc earns it. Godard’s
soundtrack is an important narrative tool here; his use of music suddenly
dropping in or out, or his aforementioned trick of complete silence give the
audio a sense of dynamism and personality.
This is a crystal clear offering, too…when the movie gets quiet, it’s
completely quiet; no noise to distract. A
very commendable effort.
that’s missing is one of Criterion’s noted film historian commentary tracks,
but that being said, this disc has just about everything else a Godard fan could
want. There are two modern
interviews: a 20 minute one with
actress (and former wife of Godard) Anna Karina, and a 10 minute piece with
cinematographer Raoul Coutard. Both
are engaging listens, but even more enjoyable is the excerpt from a 1964
documentary on New Wave featuring Godard himself and some rare behind-the-scenes
shots of the making of Band of Outsiders.
Newcomers to New Wave will appreciate Godard’s thoughtful comments
on the subject.
17 minute visual glossary will help first time viewers understand Godard’s
game of cultural pick-up-sticks by explaining or associating every reference
made in the film (you can even access individual explanations via a menu
screen). Rounding out are the
original and re-release trailers, a booklet including essays and interview
transcripts, and a short film by fellow New Wave artist Agnes Varda, Les
Fiances du Pont MacDonald, which featured the cast members of Outsiders as
well as Godard himself. Those who
have seen her full length film Cleo From 5 to 7 (also available from
Criterion) will recognize the short from being incorporated into that movie.