Bande à part

A part of this viewing list: Criterion Collection Spine #174: Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Criterion Essay by Joshua Clover.
• YouTube clips [1, 2, 3]

Comments and conversations on this post

  1. I’m always afraid to watch the entire film. I’ve seen the first 30-40 minutes a half-dozen times, along with some random sections; but I’ve never sat down and watched the whole thing. I like the beginning so much that I don’t want it to ever end! And as long as I don’t watch the ending, it stays so open-ended.

    🙂

  2. There are some definite character changes that become more visible after a certain minute-mark, but the joie de vivre remains, even though it is a bit predicated by shock and recovery.

  3. […] I’m not sure how I feel about smoking, to be honest. Yes, I do believe it’s extremely unhealthy, and typically done to appease a particular crowd. There are very few people I know who go the Margot Tenenbaum route with a pack, and if they do it’s due to an overwhelming need to have a cinematic life, which I can’t argue with. I just hope it’s a phase. However, for those who like to smoke socially (which is almost anyone who smokes, whether they’re a “smoker” or not), there is a certain charm in becoming one of the Bande a Part. […]