Friday, August 24, 2007

 

Is the world a dream or a dream the world?


By Edward Copeland
"A few clues for latecomers: Several weeks ago... A pile of money... An English class... A house by the river... A romantic young girl...," the narrator speaks in Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders.

Godard is another revered filmmaker whom I've never warmed to, even with the film that initially made his name, Breathless, with a script with input of the great Francois Truffaut. However, as part of my continuing quest to see as many of the nominees for our foreign-language film survey before my final ballot, I caught up with Band of Outsiders and it is by far the Godard work that I've enjoyed the most.


Band of Outsiders certainly plays as the most buoyant of the Godard films I've seen and it's easy to see its influence on many films and filmmakers to come. The most blatant tribute may have come in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, set during the time when the French New Wave was at the peak of its popularity, and included a scene where its leads try to re-create the Band of Outsiders scene where the trio of leads race through the Louvre.

While the general tone of Band of Outsiders is one of whimsy, there are definitely bigger issues at work. It's rather remarkable to see that Godard in 1964 already was commenting on what would become a common refrain in the decades to come of people seeking to find causation in real-life violence from the movies.

Arthur and Franz (Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey) make frequent references to life as a B movie and even stage pretend shootouts amongst themselves. Unfortunately, they decide to try real crime on for size with predictably dire results.

Brasseur, Frey and the female member of their trio (Anna Karina) all perform well. Band of Outsiders almost plays like a lighter version of Jules and Jim, only there really isn't a romantic triangle causing much trouble here.

Godard also resists the urge to be reactionary with the idea that life imitates art (or more accurately, in the case of the B movies he references, entertainment).

Band of Outsiders certainly turns out to be the most enjoyable Godard I've come across so far in my continuing cinematic journey. It even ends with a sly preview of an upcoming "episode."


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Comments:
I had a similar experience with Godard...I saw Breathless first, several years ago, and didn't like it much at all, and then Contempt which I totally didn't understand. But then I saw Band of Outsiders a month or so back, and it really connected with me, leading me to drop virtually all of Godard's films in my Netflix queue. Since it hasn't been that long, I've only gotten to Une femme est une femme and Vivre sa vie, both of which I liked very much. Have you seen those two yet, and if so, what did you think?

I'm looking forward to the results of the foreign language film survey--I've only seen about half of them, so I think I'll take watching the nominee list as a personal goal.
 
yea, i'm definitly doing my homework on this project.

i feel guilty submitting a top 25 without watching more of the 122 films on the list.

i'm working on it.
 
Ed, don't you know Godard is to be savored and thought about for decades before an opinion can be formed?! How dare you not like Breathless? You are supposed to hold your breath while analyzing it, so that you can feel the true sensation of being breathless! Any film scholar knows this, Ed. After you're resuscitated (or rather, IF you are), you'll see that Godard is brilliant. This, of course, will be because you have brain damage from the lack of oxygen.

Your punishment is to write "Godard is to be thought about and processed, like Antonioni but with less pretention" a hundred million times BY HAND. No typing it and using cut and paste. Send it to The Foreign Film Snob Society, Pedantic, CA 90028.

But seriously...the entire point of Godard is that you don't warm to him or his movies, that everything is self-referential and knows it's in a movie. It leaves me cold more often than not, but I still like it more than you do.
 
I've seen Contempt, which I didn't like much beyond Jack Palance's wicked performance and Fritz Lang's cameo and his segment in Aria. I didn't make it through Les Carabiniers. I've got Masculin/Feminin in my rental queue along with many of the other titles from the list I've yet to see.
 
If you want to see how good Godard could have been then watch Isidore Isou's "Traité de bave et d'éternité" (Venom and Eternity) which accomplishes pretty much the same end while not sending you off to sleep. You can watch a shortened version here http://www.ubu.com/film/isou.html and apparently Kino are working on a longer restoration.
 
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The one I've always wanted to see is Weekend, since I've seen the famous traffic scene, but I've never been near a showing, tape or DVD of it.
 
I adore - and enjoy! - Godard like I do very few filmmakers, though in my eyes Bande a part is one of his minor works. It's a solid film - the Louvre sequence is lovely, the dance sequence (again, sorry anon) is impossibly cool and bizarrely exciting, Anna Karina is beautiful beyond words and I love the idea of teenagers with projected images of themselves as movie gangsters are 'in real life' presented as such awkward, confused, naive criminals. But still, it isn't as fresh and productive as Godard's best - which is Weekend.

I haven't actually seen Weekend since I was 14 years old - but oh boy, it certainly made its impact then. And that traffic sequence is justly considered one of the great setpieces in cinema.

I also saw Breathless around the same time and was pretty much bored by it - then I saw it again, and enjoyed to an extent whenever Jeanne Seberg wasn't speaking - then I saw it again, and enjoyed it even more - but I still find it slightly overrated, if only because it's routinely ranked above much more stunning Godard works like Weekend, Vivre sa vie, Pierrot le fou and Les Carabiniers (I'm really disappointed you were bored by this, really puts a damper on my struggle to have it recognised as one of the pre-eminent criminally neglected classics).
I should add however that Godard's post-1968 output, though it doesn't compromise my worship of the man himself, is generally a sad joke.
 
When I grow up, anon, I hope to be as cool as you!
 
The first Godard film I saw was "Carabiniers" -- and I loved it. When I saw "Band of Outsiders", it became my favorite -- and has pretty much retained that spot -- though I probably like the early short "All Boys Are Named Patrick" at least as much, if not more.

The only films I've hated so far are "Weekend" and "Letter to Jane" -- but I have lots and lots left to explore (one of these days).
 
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