08 November 2005
100 films: Bande à part
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starring: Anna Karina, Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey, and Danièle Girard
written by: Jean-Luc Godard, from the novel by Dolores Hitchens
directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
NR, 97 min, 1964, France
Jean-Luc Godard's Bande à part is the story of how three vapid youths can conspire to pull off a grand robbery without having even the slightest clue what they're doing and fail miserably while still considering the caper a success. Odile (Anna Karina) is presumably dating Franz (Sami Frey), a boy from her English class, but while there falls in love with his friend Arthur (Claude Brasseur). Arthur and Franz are thieves, or they're trying to be thieves, and somehow learn that Odile lives in a house that contains a large sum of money. She becomes their accomplice and the heist is on.
Thanks to Godard's unique brand of genius, this film is at the same time much better than it has any right to be and more puzzling than it should be. Apparently, he doesn't find it necessary to include a scene where the idea of the robbery is hatched, instead jumping us from Arthur and Odile's meeting to a scene where they discuss where the money is. They also don't bother to really plan for the heist beyond the point of figuring out what day they'll do it, and Arthur's family members are putting some sort of pressure on him to do this quickly that isn't really explained. On the other side, Godard shows a penchant for including lengthy scenes that don't advance the plot at all. They decide to have an actual minute of silence where all the audio is dropped from the scene, just to see how long it really is, and then end the minute with a long dance scene. To a casual observer, this seems pointless, and they may be right. But when you couple this with how inept the robbery goes (no one bothers to make sure the door is unlocked before they get there and they leave a ladder propped up against the side of the building), it becomes apparent that what Godard is doing is perhaps showing us just how irresponsible they are and how arbitrary this robbery is. These aren't professional thieves with fancy gadgets and blueprints and experience. These are three bored kids who think it would be fun to steal some money. They don't know what the hell they're doing. And how do we know this? Well, they spend the time they should spend doing basic things like getting the actual layout of the house by dancing. It feels like a poor choice by Godard, but it's really just a poor choice by his characters and his narrator interrupts the dance to remind us that they're thinking of such important topics as how their breasts look in a sweater.
The answer, of course, is just fine. Anna Karina is stunningly gorgeous and, more importantly, a fine actress. The scene in the English class when she's flirting with Arthur could teach even the most inept woman how to seduce a man using only her eyes. It's really quite distracting. She gives the best performance of the trio, as she's being torn in various directions, but the two male leads do solid jobs as well.
In the end, the heist goes horribly wrong, but thankfully the film does not. Godard sees to it that every scene is at very least compelling, even if it doesn't seem to be advancing the plot all that much. To put it differently, there are times when it seems the film is more cool than good, but it's influence is undeniable. Several shots (a couple of scenes even) have been stolen by lesser directors, and if you look closely, you can just make out Quentin Tarantino's next ground-breaking movie. All you have to do is pretend Anna Karina is Uma Thurman.
 His father, Pierre Brasseur, famously played Frédérick Lemaître in Les Enfants du Paradis. I somehow watched these films back-to-back without realizing this until now.
 It is also possible that I missed it. Although, it would have happened rather quickly for that to be the case.