Money strapped Arthur (Claude Brasseur) and Franz (Sami Frey) scheme a way to make some quick cash. Using Franz's English class acquaintance, Odile (Anna Karina), they plan to rob a boarder at Odile's aunts house, a man who, according to Odile, has a dresser full of unguarded cash.
Well, that is hardly a fitting summation for a film made during the pinnacle of the French New Wave by one of it's most groundbreaking directors. Jean-Luc Godard's take on the crime film contains all of his signature playfulness and inventive toying with cinema. Based on Dolores Hitchens novel "Fools Gold", Band of Outsiders (1964) takes the notions of the pulp crime story structure and imbues it with youthful, mischievous energy.
Here we get the usual love triangle between the three leads- two men vying for the affection of the lovely Anna Karina, playing Odile, a somewhat bi-polar girl, at once naive and demure yet also flirty and capable of being a wiseass. It is the dashing yet submissive Franz who discovers her and concocts the plan, while the more assertive and dangerous Arthur is the one to catch Odile's eye and set the robbery in motion. But, Godard being Godard, he eschews the typical cinematic ways of telling their story- a flashy montage between their faces to set-up their first meeting, a sometimes wry, sometimes poetic third person narration to tell us the backstory and describe their moods, and a diner sequence that culminates into an unforgettable dance number which shows us both the trios uneven relationship and thier youthful spontaneousness.
As their fanciful plan to make some quick cash unfolds, it becomes more real, the setting more dire. This romantic idea- as Godard points out, "just like a movie"- of taking the cash falls apart when it comes to the actual heist, which, in typical crime caper fashion, unravels before them.
I should point out that I love this movie, but, in general, Godard films don't interest me very much. So, my saying, "I like this film", at the very least may help turn some Godard detractors onto him. I like Breathless. I love Band of Outsiders, and my favorite Godard film is Weekend. But, when I look at the bulk of his work (or, should I say, the bulk that I have seen), I find him to be repetitive and, well, pissy, like some bratty child drawing on the living room wall. What the kid drew may be a good picture, but his attitude when drawing it may leave you sour. I think Godard's desire to mess with cinema went from reckless, tender fun, to cold, difficult, and bitter. That is just the feling I, personally, get. A filmaker I love, Wong Kar Wai (Chungking Express, Happy Together In the Mood for Love, As Tears Go By), is clearly influenced by Godard, and I think he takes the best of Godard- the willingness to be loose, to improvise, and always look for the heart of a picture but without falling into standard A-B-C narrative conventions.
Band of Outsiders is a work from a man clearly in love with cinema, the possibilities of cinema, a man who wants to show that it is a medium where rules should not apply. And, it is thanks to Godard breaking conventions that we have, at least the potential, of a larger cinematic palette for creators to work from.
The DVD: Criterion Collection
Picture: 1.33:1 Standard. I cannot say it is the cleanest of Criterion's efforts. The print still shows some wear and the occasional fleck or spot. It isn't as pristine as, say, their editions of Seventh Seal or Seven Samurai. That said, this re-mastering was supervised by Band of Outsider's cinematographer, Raoul Coutard, so one imagines, despite what some finicky DVD snobs may say, it is a suitable presentation. I can safely say the film has never looked better. The blacks are deep, the sharpness great, and fans of the film should be happy they can throw out those other terribly grainy editions that were previously available for the home market.
Sound: Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono French with optional English subtitles. Clean is the key word. While of course, due to its era, the soundtrack isn't as dynamic as we've all grown accustomed to, Criterion's presentation is free of any troublesome quirks and adequately presents the dialogue and Michel Legrand's
breezy jazz score.
Extras: 16-page booklet--- Chapter Selections--- Visual Glossary (18 mins), in lieu of commentary, this is a very nice extra containing voice over to several scenes, explaining the various references and wordplay that Godard spiked the film with. --- Godard 1964 (5:16) This is footage from a French television program about the New Wave, contains a Godard interview and the only existing behind the scenes footage of A Band of Outsiders. --- Anna Karina (18:26) Fantastic Criterion conducted interview with the films star, one time wife, and Godard collaborator. Very nice and insightful anecdotes, giving a good glimpse at working with the enigmatic director. --- Raoul Coutard (11:02) Nice Criterion conducted interview with the films cinematographer, detailing his work with Godard and the inner workings behind his particular style. --- Agnes Varda's Short Film "Les Fiances Du Pont MacDonald" (2:54), a lightweight, fun silent film parody featuring Karina and Godard. --- Trailers, Godard's original theatrical trailer (1:52) and the Rialto 2001 re-releases (2:11)
Conclusion: While not as extra-packed as their recent two-disc edition of Godard's Contempt (I think Band of Outsiders is superior and deserving of similar SE treatment, but that's just me), it is still a very nice addition to their typically outstanding releases. Certainly a must have for fans and a great starting point for those wanting to be introduced to Godard's work