Band of Outsiders (1964)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Remember when Jules and Jim and Catherine raced together through the Louvre? Or was that Pitt and Garrel and Green? The scene was in The Dreamers, actually, but originally it was the titular trio of this early Godard who charged down the hallways of the palace-turned-museum. The love triangle is a favorite motif of the French, but it was never done better—more goofily or melancholically—than here. Band of Outsiders bursts with uncontainable verve, tempered always by a diffuse sadness, in its freewheeling mashup of highbrow and low. There’s horseplay and clowning; on-location shooting on bustling Paris streets, seemingly without permits; and of course Anna Karina, with her Falconetti eyes and guitar-pick face. She’s purified cool and glamour and youth and Pariseté, exuding a sad and knowing innocence, an intrinsic melancholia—she says she’s “worn out from sorrow and fatigue”—broken by the occasional unpretentious smile. She’s a genuine movie star; the camera seems to need her more than she needs it, captivated by her unresolvable mystique.
Both of the leading men, wannabe hoods played by Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur, are in love with her, or at least want her help with a heist: robbing piles of cash from a boarder in her home in Joinville-le-pont. Novelistic narration moves the pulp storytelling along, but there’s little plot. The characters instead read the newspaper aloud, recite Shakespeare speeches, drive around, bounce around (to a jazzy Michel Legrand score, including excerpts from Umbrellas of Cherbourg, released six months earlier), toss raw meat to leashed tigers, people-watch on the Métro and spontaneously dance a choreographed routine in a Vincennes café. Godard, the cocky provocateur, breaks every rule of filmmaking he can muster: there’s a minute of silence (even of ambient sound!), there’s dancing without music. He’ll even defy his own established aesthetics, wallowing in Bazinian long takes after a bit of Eisensteinian montage. Band of Outsiders is a rejection of traditions—all of ‘em, de qualité or otherwise—and an embrace of the new. What greater way then to signal its intent than to have the characters race through the repository of history’s most beautiful and important artifacts as though they hardly deserve a glance? Henry Stewart (May 6-12 at Film Forum, showtimes daily, with Anna Karina in person at 7:30pm on Friday; Karina/Godard survey “Anna & Jean-Luc” runs concurrently )