Bande a Part (Band of Outsiders) (1964): Godard at his Best

Jean-Luc Godard made Bande a Part at the first peak of his career, inspired by the collaboration of his then wife, Anna Karina.

It was released as Band of Outsiders in America, but the French title derives from the phrase “faire bande à part,” which means “to do something apart from the group”.

Greeted with positive critical reviews, Band a Part is considered to be one of the best films in Godard’s long and fruitful career.

The film’s dance scene has been imitated and/or referenced in many other movies.

A young woman named Odile (Anna Karina) meets a man named Franz (Sami Frey) in an English language class. She tells him of a large pile of money stashed in the villa where she lives with her aunt Victoria and Mr. Stolz in Joinville, a Parisian suburb.

Franz tells his friend Arthur (Claude Brasseur) of the money, and the two make a plan to steal it.

Franz and Arthur go to the English class, where Arthur flirts with Odile and asks her about the money. Odile goes home and finds the money in Stolz’s room.

She then meets Franz and Arthur, and they go to a café, order drinks, and dance.

Odile tells Arthur that she loves him, and the two go back to his place and spend the night together.

The next day, Arthur’s uncle learns of the money and wants a cut of it. Franz, Arthur, and Odile decide to commit the robbery sooner than they planned.

The three meet up and run through the Louvre in record time.

That night, they go to Odile’s house and find that the door to Stolz’s room is locked. Arthur tells Odile to find the key. Franz and Arthur return to the house the following night, and Odile tells them that the locks have been changed. They tie and gag Victoria, before locking her in a closet.

They go to Stolz’s room and see that the money is not there anymore. They search the house and find only a small amount of cash. When they open the closet to interrogate Victoria, she appears to be dead. Franz and Odile leave, and Arthur stays behind.

While driving away, Franz and Odile see Arthur’s uncle heading to the villa, and they go back. Arthur has found the rest of the money in a doghouse. Arthur and his uncle get into a shootout and kill each other. Stolz returns to the house, and Victoria is shown to be alive.

Franz and Odile drive off with the stack of money, and decide to go to South America.

I deliberately started my essay with a detailed description of the “plot,” so that I can now dismiss it.  Godard himself described it as “Alice in Wonderland meets Franz Kafka.”  Nominally, the text is an adaptation of the 1958 novel Fools’ Gold by American author Dolores Hitchens, but what counts is the visual style, its free and loose structure, above all its abundant charm.

The film is delicately nuanced, and it’s possible to enjoy it even without knowing who Godard is and what is his distinctive vision.  Taking the popular American genre of the heist film as a point of departure, Godard then satirizes it lightly, centering on the romantic triangle.

End Note:

Tarantino has named his production company, A Band Apart.