Bande à part – Godard celebrates the outsider.
The importance and influence of Bande à part on cinema today simply can ‘t be overestimated. That is if you think names like Quentin Tarentino and Jean Pierre Junet have much of a say in the direction cinema has taken in the last few decades. Without this film the concept of gangsters ‘hanging out’ and chatting about subject matter that is not to do with the crime they are about to commit would never have happened. Tarantino’s production company is called Bande à part and Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs pay homage to this great film. Jean Pierre Junet’s voiceover in Amalie also owes its inspiration to this great film. In the above scene Godard halts the music but not the dancing to slice reality open and discuss the feelings of the three characters represented.
Odile (Anna Karina) meets would-be criminals Arthur (Claude Brasseur) and Franz (Sami Frey) in an English language class. At some point, she tells Franz that there is a large amount of money stashed in the villa where she lives with her Aunt Victoria and a certain Mr. Stoltz in Joinville near Paris; and Franz and Arthur persuade her to assist them in staging a robbery in her own home. Meanwhile, both Franz and Arthur try to seduce Odile, with Arthur being the more successful.
Godard combines surreal and realistic imagery in this film to hold us in our position of viewer. The film is deeply engaging and the characters engrossing, and yet Godard will interrupt our fantasy with his narration. This narration is a split. it is not in keeping with the rest of the film. BY using the narrators words to describes the feelings of the three protagonists Godard reminds us we are watching a film and refuses permission to blur the lines between fantasy and reality. At the same time, the way Godard effectively makes himself part of the narrative relieves him of the burden of “god” and makes him a character, but in that he drags us in with him. This is so cleverly done, that we can have the dual experience of feeling as though we have disappeared into the film and at the same time are sitting outside of it.
Another brilliant scene, so characteristic of Godard, is the minute of silence. The characters are speculating how long a minute is when you are not speaking. They all fall silent, and for the duration of this minute all audio is plunged into silenced for 36 painstaking seconds until Franz breaks it by saying “enough of that.” Godard was known as a “poetic realist” but was heavily cynical about film. He was quoted saying “Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.”
The aesthetic style is typical of French Wave films, with realism enforced by the continuous and long shots, improvisation in dialogue and plot and direct sound recordings. Linda Nichlin’s “Realism” (1971) states that “reality is not only located in the mind but is at mercy of the moods and caprices, dilates and contracts with the degree of activity of the consciousness. Reality is ‘for the time being'”.
Robin Wood (1967) sees Bande à part as a halfway point in Godard’s development as a filmmaker. Still recognizably a (genre) narrative film, there is a much clearer sense of moving towards a more radical approach. Although elements of the earlier films had already shown evidence of Godard’s interest in disrupting mainstream cinema they are here for the first time presented as an integral part of the whole: “Stylistically and structurally the film is built on two tensions which characterise all of Godard’s work, but the opposing pulls in each here find a unique balance the tension between traditional narrative and what I have called collage; and the tension between naturalism and stylisation, both pushed to extremes.” (Wood 1967)
Wood analyses the classroom scene in detail, pointing out that as a ‘straight’, narrative sequence it works well to set up the relationships between the three central characters, but as a classroom lesson it makes no sense, unless we are prepared to ‘read’ it in terms of the cultural references and juxtapositions between the characters in the room and the literary heroes of Hardy and Shakespeare. ‘Collage’ as Wood presents the idea, refers to the ways in which Godard attempts to persuade us to think across scenes in a ‘thematic’ way. The best example of this is possibly the running commentary on ‘life’ and ‘art’ that is the characters’ own understanding of gangster heroes in ‘real life’ and the cinema. The robbery attempts are shown, often in longshot, in a way that recalls the ineptness of early cinema clowns, but when the characters consciously ‘play’ at gangsters, in the famous shot of Arthur dying as Billy the Kid, the scene is structured to evoke the generic power of the Hollywood version. Other aspects of the film that continue the ‘collage’ effect are the dance scene in the cafe, Odile’s song, the stories the men tell and the race through the Louvre.
I found a fantastic essay on the sound in this remarkable film on Travelling Showcase blog. Check this out then click on the link to read the rest of the essay.
Band of Outsiders is a 1964 French New Wave film that used innovation in nearly every aspect of the film. With a French name that literally translates to “doing something apart from the group”, it is not a far stretch to understand why the sound department decided to follow no one else’s lead but their own. One of the first sound tricks that Band of Outsiders used were short music cues. Like the composers that preceded him, Michel Legrand, composer for Band of Outsiders, used the leitmotif to describe implicit situations, such as the short ragtime cue in the beginning, which symbolizes the intertwined emotion dance that the main characters, Franz, Odile, and Arthur, metaphorically went on, with each other, before the start of the diegesis. A simple emotion that one would feel, described through the first musical cue of the film.
One of Godard’s best, a wonderful juggling act of comical, satirical, and romantic elements, Band a part is a small gem of a movie that reveals new and varying shades of luster with every successive frame. Hardboiled, absurd, violent, goofy, sexy, poetic and so natural. Godard would never be this lighthearted and romantic again.