Sunday, April 3, 2011

#174: Band of Outsiders

(Jean-Luc Godard, 1964)

Once again, as he had done in his debut classic, Godard gives us a girl and a gun in Band of Outsiders. Coming off perhaps the angriest work of his early period with Contempt, Godard turned back to many of the cinematic references of Breathless and the meta winks toward the audience of A Woman is a Woman. The final product is a borderline masterpiece that ranks just a notch below his best work for me.

The first time I watched Band of Outsiders was about a decade ago, when I was first falling in love with many of the films Godard nods to in the film. It hit me especially hard for two contradictory reasons: Godard was internalizing and then recontextualizing the same elements of cinema which had moved me, and yet he was doing so in a manner that seemed distinctly out of step with my contemporary reality. The director's work is tied to the 60s not only because he defined and shaped cinema in that era (is there anyone who doubts that this film and Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player had a significant impact on Bonnie and Clyde?), but because his ideas and aesthetic are constantly looking forward, pushing towards the outer reaches of cinema. There is nothing that dates a film like its perception of the future, and many of Godard's films lack the vibrancy they must have had for a contemporary audience. The fact that his films remain relevant is a testament to his skill, but unlike directors like Ozu and Kurosawa in the East and Bergman and Fellini in the West, Godard often shied away from universal timeless themes in order to tell his stories.

This isn't to say Godard's films are removed. There is loads of emotion in Band of Outsiders, especially romance and melancholy. But the moments I come away from the film with are of a decidedly technical - if totally playful - slant, like the moment of silence where the film follows along with the characters, or the race through the Louvre to beat the American-set record for fastest visit. These moments seem designed to remind you that you are watching a movie - a Godard movie at that! - and you shouldn't get too worked up about any little thing. Godard told stories that were just as relatable as the stories of the other directors mentioned above, but the way he told them was so distinctly of its time - both socially and artistically - that his work can't help but appeal more to the brain than to the heart.

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