“Band of Outsiders” was Jean-Luc Godard’s seventh film and a unique entry into the French New Wave movement. Viewed by some as Godard’s most accessible movie, “Band of Outsiders” is a playful, saucy romp which has influenced a variety of filmmakers through the decades that have followed. While the film may be considered a bit lighter than some of Godard’s other work, many of the director’s signature touches can be clearly seen.
Friends Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) recruit the reluctant Odile (Anna Karina) to help them pull off a heist. Odile lives in a villa with her Aunt Victoria and a mysterious wealthy man named Stoltz. One day she tells Franz of a large stash of money kept inside the villa. Franz and Arthur devise a plan to steal the money and Odile serves as their insider. But it grows more and more obvious that she doesn’t want to go through with it. She’s not a criminal. She’s actually sad, lonely, and looking for some validation to her life. That’s the only reason she connects with Franz and Arthur.
Things are made more interesting by the fact that both men are smitten with Odile (at least to some degree). Franz is low-key and clearly in love with her. Arthur is a rude, rebellious, hellion so naturally Odile falls for him. Godard doesn’t give us the standard tensions or follow the same path as most movies featuring this kind of love triangle. It doesn’t become the focal point of the story. It’s simply a component of their relationships that slightly persuades how things turn out.
While the heist is the ultimate goal, the film is about these three characters. Godard treats them as…well…a band of outsiders. They each seem to be living in their own make-believe worlds. They seem to treat life as if it were a movie. We even get moments where Franz and Arthur act out scenes from gangster films. On one hand the trio shows a fresh and energetic approach to living that’s seen best in their frolicking around Paris. On the other hand there is the naive indifference they have to reality and consequences. Only Odile seems to struggle with this.
While the characters and their relationships are the central focus, there is the heist angle which is also unique and unconventional. At times the film feels like a prototypical American crime drama that has been infused with French New Wave irreverence and style. The story sets its aim on a pretty familiar target, but Godard’s auteur’s approach gives us more than the normal heist movie tropes. Our trio are the most inadequate and unprepared people to be trying such a score. We see it in their lackluster planning and in the disastrous end results.
As with most of Jean-Luc Godard’s movies, there are certain moments that make the film unquestionably his. There is a great cafe sequence featuring a fun and crafty ‘moment of silence’ and the famous “Madison Dance” which inspired Quentin Tarantino’s dance sequence in “Pulp Fiction”. There is the equally famous ‘record-breaking’ race through the Louvre museum – a chipper and playful moment just before things take a darker and more realistic turn. And of course there are numerous artistic references to poetry, music, and film.
I could mention several other things that make “Band of Outsiders” a good film. I could mention the wonderful performances led by the magnetic Anna Karina (she was Godard’s wife at the time and his camera loves her). I could mention the film’s smart and effective blend of excitement and pathos. But ultimately it comes down to a fine filmmaker, good material, talented performers, and that spirited French New Wave perspective. For me that’s a perfect recipe for a great movie.