Bande à part is only loosely a gangster film, only loosely a noir, and a very unconventional film in just about all other respects. It is also one of the most influential of the French New Wave and is still near the cutting edge 43 years after its release. What makes this work so striking is Godard’s proclivity to mess with the 4th wall, to address the viewer in as many ways as possible while providing enough of a story for the film to remain satisfying as a piece of entertainment as well as an experiment.
There is an inconsistent use of match-on-action, several times when the characters address the camera itself [and therefore the viewer] and a lot of self-conscious performance that indicates a certain awareness on the part of the characters; they know they’re in a film. In addition, Godard’s characteristic playfulness results in a sharp humor that gradually changes into gallow’s as the planned crime disintegrates into chaos.
In a film filled with cinematic inconsistency, the inconsistencies of the human heart play an equally strong role. Odile’s motivations are the most obviously conflicting, but Arthur’s reckless and intentionally self-destructive behavior is almost equally pertinent as an illustration of the Nouvelle Vague ethos. Less obvious, but perhaps even more important is Franz’s passive and philosophical resignation as third wheel. His unlikely advance into agency and Odile’s easy slide into girlfriend mode after Arthur’s anticlimactic shoot-out is just as unexpected as anything in the real world, but with Godard in control they come into a different sort of relief.
• Criterion Essay by Joshua Clover.
• YouTube clips [1, 2, 3]