“Bande à Part”
by Abe Ahn
Jean-Luc Godard’s “Bande à Part” (Band of Outsiders) may not be a household name among American movie-goers today, but the movies that are, like Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” owe much to the iconic images that define the 1964 film. Even before watching the film for the first time at the Film and Video Center on May 15 in all its 35mm brilliance, I could recognize its most memorable scenes—the ones to which many directors after Godard paid homage in their films. Uma Thurman and John Travolta’s dance scene in “Pulp Fiction” is a tribute to the dance routine by “Bande à Part’s” Arthur, Franz and Odile.
Most recently, Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” reenacts the trio’s run through the Louvre at record speed. Viewing these scenes apart from the rest of the film, it is easy to mistake “Bande à Part” as anything but a crime drama. But it is, in many ways, a comedy, romance, drama and heist film all in one, as characteristic of Godard’s genre-flouting style of the French New Wave.
The film takes part mostly around Joinville-le-Pont, a suburb of Paris, where petty criminals Arthur and Franz befriend Odile, a naïve, sprightly girl who lives with her wealthy aunt Victoria and a man named Mr. Stoltz. The two men persuade Odile to help them rob her own home, and the rest of the film follows the trio’s plans, romances, as well as the execution of the heist. While there is some semblance of exposition and narrative, “Bande à part” is most memorable for the rebellious style and grace of its characters. Arthur and Franz echo the chain-smoking, romancing criminal Michel from Godard’s first feature-length film, “Breathless,” but their friendship is a response to François Truffaut’s “Jules et Jim,” another entry into the New Wave canon. While “Jules et Jim” was preoccupied with its ménage-à-trois love story, “Bande à part” jumps back and forth from quirky comedy to tragic romance, letting its three characters live out a collage of genres that reflect the style and tastes of a true cinephile.
While “Bande à part” may be considered Godard’s most accessible film, it reveals signs of his later more political and disaffected works. In a scene with the Paris Métro, the camera pans across a lonely night scene as Odile serenades on behalf of a depressed, beaten-down Paris. Here, Godard’s attitude toward 1960s France and the growing discontent among its working class is apparent, but at this point, he had not yet condemned cinematic history as a “bourgeois” fixation and made his commitments to Marxism. In this context, “Bande à part” is one of Godard’s most playful films, in both style and tone. It has been more than 40 years since its release, but there is yet to be a film as authentically anti-Hollywood as “Bande à part.”
by Christina Nersesian
The Film and Video Center at UC Irvine has been steadily bringing some of the finest cinematic achievements to Orange County’s only weekly cinematheque for the past 10 years. Since the beginning of this past winter quarter, with film and media studies professor Lauren Steimer at the helm as FVC director, we’ve seen such marvels as Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 film, “Notorious” in its original 35mm print. They’ve also taken part in the Latin American Film Festival at UCI, showcasing a full gamut of talent across the board of Latin American filmmakers through the FVC.
The beginning of May marked the start of one of its series, showcasing French Cinema in the ’60s. The series premiered with director Jacques Demy’s 1964 film, “Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” the way it should be seen—in restored 35mm with a screaming color palette. The series closed with two films by influential French film director Jean-Luc Godard who, along with the workings of other French filmmakers of the ’50s and ’60s, unknowingly pioneered the French New Wave of filmmaking.
Closing the series was Godard’s first feature-length film, “Breathless.” Made in 1960, it takes place in Paris and features extensive on-location shooting with some hand-held camera work. The film showcases an interesting mise-en-scene that takes the audience from the tranquility of the French countryside – with a commentary by the lead male protagonist to match – to the life of asphalt, storefronts and multi-level apartment buildings. The bulk of “Breathless” is centered on the portrait of the city and how in the foreground of the mundane, urban life, the lives of the film’s lead protagonists change instantaneously.
A story envisioned by Godard’s colleague in arms of French New Wave and the film magazine, “Cahiers du Cinema,” François Truffaut, “Breathless” is the story of a somewhat vagabond, runaway fugitive, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), and his American sometimes-girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg). The film recounts a series of unavoidable twists and turns that climax to a finale alluding to themes of persistent love and the wild spirit of youth. The question of their future is the albatross of fate for the two. A foreshadowing moment includes Michel asking for Patricia’s horoscope, which in essence, alludes to him asking her for her ideas on their further existence.
“Breathless” broke countless boundaries of Hollywood Cinema techniques to create a style of French Cinema on its own. As a cross-genre hybrid of traditional gangster and crime narratives, it presents notions of each, but under the guise of an appropriately rebellious cinematic form. Rejecting well-established conventions of Hollywood Cinema, “Breathless” most obviously disregards the 180-degree rule of continuity editing. Godard also omits the shot/reverse shot technique during conversation scenes, keeping only one of two characters involved in dialogue in the frame.
Usually spring quarter films shown at the FVC, like “Breathless,” exhibit characteristics of the French populace during the May 1968 student rebellions in France. In the French New Wave’s blatant rejection of Hollywood’s ideological cinema techniques and in including iconoclastic characters like Michel and Patricia, the directors of this period reflected the climate of their immediate surroundings.
“It is on the 40th anniversary of the events of May ’68,” Steimer said. “And in the spirit of youth, change, and rebellion that we have programmed a series on ‘French Cinema in the 1960s.'”
It is in the culmination of radical modes of filmmaking with the visionary work of directors like Godard that “Breathless” has achieved a timeless status amongst cinephiles. Its poignant representation of what was to come in the era of French New Wave and what other movements in filmmaking would follow make Godard’s premiere effort at feature-length filmmaking a landmark piece. While the reality of the narrative brings Michel and Patricia to their unavoidable fates, it is the mode of storytelling that serves as the voice for a new generation of filmmaking and celluloid artistry.