May 21, 2011
Band of Outsiders (1964)
Grade: 52/100

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Stars: Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur

What it's about. A hip French New Wave film that doesn't make much sense. But it is hip, which means that the characters say odd things to each other and a blank-eyed pretty young woman (in this case, the director's wife, Anna Karina) is in the lion's share of scenes.

It seems that Arthur (Claude Brasseur) owes money to his belligerent uncle (Ernest Menzer). Arthur meets Karina in an English class, and learns that she lives with a boarder who keeps a stash of 10,000 franc notes within his unlocked room. Arthur, along with his taller and nicer friend Franz (Sami Frey), decide to rob the boarder with the help of Karina.

The robbery goes wrong, however, which leads to an odd ending with many curious moments, such as a man firing a gun v-e-r-y slowly again and again at another man, who refuses to drop until he can do the goony dance one last time. Another strange moment has a man drive up to the porch, pick up stray bills, and hand them to a woman who comes outside the house, who can't be Madame Victoria (Louisa Colpeyn), since she is said to be dead.

How others will see it. Although Band of Outsiders was ignored by the award festival circuits, today it ranks as one of Godard's most popular films, perhaps trailing only Breathless (1960). Certainly, the movie influenced Quentin Tarantino, and the user ratings are very high at There is a noticeable drop with advancing age, from 8.5 from those under 18, to 7.4 from those over 45.

The most famous scene, the one Tarantino copied in Pulp Fiction, has Karina and her two nouveau gangster friends doing a toe step and hand clap dance of some sort for some length. Which goes to show that when the plot is weak, the director should at least throw in something charming, even if it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, and even though there is no reason why these three people should be dancing, or know the same complex dance.

How I felt about it. Since Band of Outsiders lacks the interesting dialogue of Breathless, it has to rely on the charisma of the leads. Brasseur is simply a selfish bully, but Frey has a striking appearance, and of course Karina is a hottie. The film would be completely forgettable without her, something Godard knows as well, since he regularly cast her as the lead until they divorced in 1967.

There's no reason for Karina to fall for the unromantic Brasseur. Her character must be as pliable as Silly Putty, as she is eager to ruin her comfortable life to please this unpleasant criminal she just met. As things turn out, she ends up with the more desirable Frey instead, but she gives no clue that is how she wants it until very late in the movie.

The lesson to be had from this movie is that the world is full of beautiful and stupid women who can be picked up, and made to do your bidding, merely by passing them insulting notes in class. Since this lesson is nonsense, perhaps we should regard Band of Outsiders as a comedy, and a flat one at that.