Band of Outsiders (1964)

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Food: Enjoyed a delicious meal with friends at Rai Rai Ken in the East Village on a Friday night. We got the corner table which was cozy and easier for chatting, and we all started with a round of cold sake and beer. We shared the edamame, the kara-age (Japanese style fried chicken with spicy mayo), and shishito peppers. My dish was the yakisoba (soup-less, wok-fried ramen noodles with cabbage and bean sprouts with an original sauce). It was so tasty and filling – similar to lo mein, but with a smokier flavor. I will definitely order the same dish when I go back! Also, the server was awesome and just kept topping off our sake so we were thoroughly sauced by the time we left and were certainly ready to start the night.

Film: “Band of Outsiders” (1964) by Jean Luc-Godard is another memorable contributor to the French New Wave movement (Godard is also known for “A Woman is A Woman” 1961; “My Life To Live” 1962; “Contempt” 1963). These three also happen to be the only others of Godard’s films that I have seen so far. From this list, “Band of Outsiders” is by far my favorite. It is the most fun – though, “A Woman is A Woman” is a close second.

“Band of Outsiders” begins with a duo of young men cruising around the city in a convertible chatting casually about a girl from their class, Odile (the iconic Anna Karina) with whom Franz (Sami Frey) had been close, and mentioned that she lives with an older, wealthy man. Franz and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) conspire to get closer to Odile in order to take advantage of her situation, and rob her housemate.

We are introduced to Odile in a neighborhood English class, where the teacher charmingly reads Shakespeare to the class in French, and they must translate. This scene evokes the feeling of puppy-love, as the three characters, while stuck in the confinement of a classroom, make eyes at each other. Arthur even ends up passing a Shakespearan-inspired dirty note, starting with “to be or not to be.” Eventually, the boys persuade Odile to leave with them, and so begins a trio of friends, running about town and having adventures. Odile shows her affection towards Arthur by accepting cigarettes from him as opposed to Franz, and eventually he convinces Odile to help them rob the house in which she lives.

The story of this film, the actual crime, comes second to the charming storytelling devices that are used to tell it. They are the most “Godard.” At one point, the three characters continue to play a sort of musical chairs while hanging out at a cafe. Every time one gets up to either go to the washroom, or refill the drinks, they scoot into the others place and they all end up switching seats continually throughout the conversation for no particular reason. In another moment, the three characters get up and begin to dance a choreographed jig in unison. Learning about the filming of this scene, the music that the actors were actually dancing to was John Lee Hooker’s “Shake It Baby,” but the music that’s heard on the soundtrack is composed by Michel Legrand and is dubbed in, which explains why the dance doesn’t catch its beat perfectly. It only seems to add to the delight.

There are a few other clever moments, like how the trio spends their time at the Louvre, or all the puns that are created with Odile’s name. The loose, unstructured way that the scenes are carried out add comedy to even the most grim of situations. This is my favorite Godard thus far because I think it is the best at capturing his style and flare. Many of his plots are more character driven, more meandering, more emotional. This arc is much more grounded, and because of that, his unique pizzazz stands out more and is used to elevate the story, not used as the story.

In one interview, Godard is asked about the title of the film, “Why do your characters form a band of outsiders—in other words, how do they distinguish themselves from others?” To that, he responded, “I’d say rather that they are normal people; people distinguish themselves from them.” The story is about a crime, sure, but what it is really about is a group of kids trying to make a story for themselves, finding ways to be interesting. And in that, they certainly succeed.

 

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