Blu-ray Review: Band of Outsiders (Bande à part) (Criterion Collection)

In Blu-Ray’s by Rebecca WrightLeave a Comment

Made at the pinnacle of the French New Wave, Band of Outsiders (1964) is director Jean-Luc Godard’s take on the crime film. More to the point, Band of Outsiders is Godard’s reinvention of the crime film. In an interview included as part of Criterion’s Blu-ray Special Edition features, Godard states bluntly, “This movie was made as a reaction against anything that wasn’t done…It went along with my desire to show that nothing was off limits.”

That interview, recorded while Godard was shooting the film, prepares us for his reimagining of the genre. Cloaked in his trademark playfulness, Godard’s Band of Outsiders is an interesting mix of tragedy, comedy, romance, buddy film and a heist picture. Two young men, both fans of American gangster films, decide to ask a pretty, single young woman named Odile (Anna Karina) to help them commit a robbery. Franz (Sami Frey), the quieter of the two men, first met the girl in an English class and felt she would be easy to manipulate. Arthur (Claude Brasseur), the louder of the two trusts that Franz is right, and hopes that they will score enough money so that he can pay back his loathsome uncle.

Band of OutsidersBoth men vie for Odile’s affections, not only because she’s pretty, but because her miserly uncle keeps a large amount of cash hidden in his big house on the outskirts of town. Odile is cold yet interested, not necessarily committal, but not entirely unfriendly. It’s the man who pushes the issue, Arthur, who has the most success breaking through to her. The prettiest girls often respond to the bad boys, and it happens to be Arthur who pushes for the burglary the hardest. In the end, Odile and Franz are forced to go along, even though disaster seems inevitable.

Like most heist films, more time is spent on planning the robbery than the act itself. In Band of Outsiders though, the participants don’t spend a lot of time pouring over plans like in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s movies. Instead, the three of them spend a lot of time together waiting, and thinking. It’s during this downtime, that Godard has the most fun. At one point, the trio dances “the Madison” in a café, framed like a pause in the film. We also get the famous scene where they see how fast they can race each other from one end of the Louvre to the other. It’s as if they’re trying to get as much frivolity in as possible, before their lives are change irrevocably for the worse.

Even as we watch these carefree scenes play out, a sense of doom lurks in the background. We know that somehow, brutish Arthur will pay the steepest price for his part in the robbery. However, Godard assures us that Franz and Odile will have a much happier ending. Godard even goes as far as to promise a sequel that he likely had little or no intention of making. It’s as if riding off into the ‘Hollywood’ sunset is in reality, more final than any alternative.

Restored in 2010, Criterion has framed this 1080p transfer in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The grayscale is solid, and really emphasizes crisp whites, and strong black levels. Sharpness is pretty good across the board, though it varies a bit, depending on the photography—which was done with both handheld, and larger mounted cameras. The image is very clean, with no age related issues.

The French LPCM 1.0 audio track is a very solid one. Typical of the era, there’s not a lot happening on the low end, and some outdoor scenes sound just a tad jumbled. Michel Legrand’s score (which contains bits of the songs from his The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) comes across quite nicely, and dialogue is always clear.

English subtitles are provided.

The following special features are available:

  • Visual Gallery (HD, 18:00) A collection of 31 clips from the film with explanations of the different references and quotes they contain. Narrated in English.
  • Godard, 1964 (HD, 5:18) In clips from director Andre S. Labarthe’s documentary La nouvelle vague par elle-meme, Jean-Luc Godard discusses the different bans imposed on French Cinema prior to the New Wave as well as the creative ideas behind the movement. Also included is raw footage from the shooting of Band of Outsiders.
  • Anna Karina (HD, 18:28) In this 2002 interview conducted by Criterion, the actress discusses how she got into acting, and her memories of working with Godard.
  • Raoul Coutard (HD, 11:03): Godard’s cinematographer on sixteen films shares his memories of working on Band of Outsiders.
  • Les fiancés du pont Mac Donald (HD, 2:55) A silent short directed by Agnes Varda. Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina, Sami Frey, and Daniele Girard appear in the film.
  • Two Theatrical Trailers (HD, 1:53, 2:11); the first is the theatrical trailer and the second is a reissue trailer.
  • Booklet: The 25-page illustrated booklet contains an essay by poet and critic Joshua Clover, Jean-Luc Godard’s character descriptions from Band of Outsiders‘s 1964 press book, and an interview with the French director from the same year.