Saturday, November 7, 2015

Bande à part (Band of Outsiders) Review (Classic Write-Up)

I try to pride myself as being a cinematic connoisseur, but alas, the works of famous French director Jean-Luc Godard have been a notable blind spot for me in the world of film. That changed two days ago when I viewed my first ever film from that particular filmmaker, Bande a part (Band of Outsiders). Needless to say, this 1964 feature not only whetted my appetite to check out other effort from Godard, but also proved as a superb experience in its own right separated from the rest of the filmography of the director.

Much of the plot of Bande a part seems to take a structural cue from those classic Road To.... movies that starred Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Like those features, Bande a part centers on a duo of guys, Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur), on an adventure of sorts with a woman, Odile (Anna Karina), figuring heavily into the plot and causing friction between the duo. There's no road trip to be found in Bande a part, but the influences from those 1940's films are certainly unmistakable. In this tale, Franz and Arthur are looking to steal money from a wealthy individual, and need the help of Odile, who knows the layout of the residence they look to burglarize inside and out (she lives there with her Aunt and Uncle) and is eager to toss some adventure into her humdrum life.

Having a more financially stable individual pair off with these two strapped for cash members of society is the kind of basic storytelling trait that's provided entertainment throughout the ages in numerous forms of media. Luckily, Godard (who also wrote the script for the film) doesn't drop the ball in depicting the interactions between its primary three characters, as the heterogeneous amount of conflicts that their encounter in the minimal amount of days leading up to that fateful robbery provide immense amount of amusement. A sequence of the trio in a diner dancing, while the narrator describes the individual inner thoughts of each character is by itself the best part of the entire motion picture. This scene serves as an exemplary demonstration of the emphasis that Bande a part puts on the clashing personalities of its protagonists and the kind of engrossing cinema that can stem from such dueling mindsets.

A review of a 51 year old French dramedy might seem like an ill-suited place to critique the directing of the Star Wars prequels, but I was reminded of that penchant George Lucas had in that trilogy for cramming so much into every frame whilst examining Godard's work in this film. He's got a similar knack for taking advantage of every inch of a frame, but whereas the Star Wars prequel wound up with a more cluttered result, Bande a part has numerous moments where the subtlest moments occur barely within frame. At one point in that aforementioned diner scene, Franz leaves the table, but in a mirror in the background, you can see Franz walk away, look back at Odile cozying up with Arthur and then continue on his march.

It's a minuscule part of the scene, but it works well at visually showing how Franz feels about Odile and Arthur at that current point in the story. Taking full advantage of all of the space he has in each frame, Godard packs each image of the movie with bustling activity that conveys nuance and depth, not a George Lucas-esque lust for incoherent visuals. Above all else, Bande a part also excels at simply being an engaging human drama, with the fleshed out characters bouncing off each other in ways that sometimes result in laughs, other times in nail-biting suspense. If the absorbing world of Bande a part is a clear indicator for me in what's to come as I plow through the other movies of Jean-Luc Godards resume, well, I'll be happy as a clam.

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