Bande a Part (1964)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Cast: Anna Karina, Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey
My Rating: 9/10.
In Short: Fun New Wave
Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande a Part is distinctly reminiscent of his first feature Breathless. There are fewer jump cuts or confusing editing but one can’t help but think of that film when they hear Bande a Part‘s storyline. But the difference is that Bande a Part is a love triangle rather than a direct examination of a couple’s relationship. Franz and Arthur are two thieves who establish a relationship with Odile, a young woman who agrees to help them steal money from her wealthy relatives.
Bande a Part is one of Godard’s faster, quicker films. Movies like Breathless and Contempt contain scenes that spent a large amount of time in one place, but Bande a Part is constantly moving. Like all of Godard’s early films, it is fairly dialogue-driven. The soundtrack is one of those peppy, jazzy scores that plays quietly but noticeably in the background, maintaining the pace. The film does not particularly stand out among the others of its time, it may be said. A friend of mine once said that if you watched this film back to back with Francois Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, it would almost feel like the same film being viewed twice. A joke, of course, but there are similarities between the film. Bande a Part is one of the many films that adopted New Wave techniques; the two films may seem similar, but this is simply because they were made at the same time when cinema was in a unique stage of development. I see them as two very different movies.
Godard makes his film unique and stand out with his use of memorable scenes, set pieces, lines and a stunning but simple final shootout. There are countless scenes you can name throughout the film that have been copied, imitated, parodied or saluted throughout modern cinema, most notably in the films of Quentin Tarantino. He named his production company A Band Apart after the film, and the famous dance sequence in Pulp Fiction was directly inspired by the Madison dance sequence in the diner in Bande a Part, the film’s most memorable scene. The film would be a lot less without that dance sequence. It’s one of the best scenes Godard directed.
There are other minor touches which help make the film feel distinctly Godard. For starters, about five minutes into the film, the narrator (played by guess who) reveals to the audience everything that has happened so far, just in case anyone has stumbled into the film late. There is also the “Minute of Silence” sequence, shortly before the Madison dance scene, in which the three protagonists, with nothing to talk about, decide to have a minute’s silence. What’s intriguing about this scene is not that they actually maintain silence for only 35 seconds, but Godard actually mutes the entire soundtrack of the film for the duration of that time, so not only have the characters become silent (which is rare, as it seems they rarely stop talking), but also the film has become silent, a small but beautiful moment of reflection.
When people look back at Godard’s films, Bande a Part is rarely a standout. People generally think of the jump cuts in Breathless, Fritz Lang in Contempt or one of the various tracking shots in Week End, among other things. But Bande a Part has a tremendous number of things worth remembering. The diner dance scene, the frantic run through the Louvre, the Minute of Silence, the shootout at the end, Franz caressing Odile’s cheek as he conflictingly tells her he wants her but resists, and the serene, innocent face of Anna Karina torn between the two men and herself, simultaneously happy and screaming. There is so much here in this brilliant film, so many unforgettable moments, and of all Godard’s contributions to the New Wave moment, between Breathless and Week End, Bande a Part is one of the best, a beautiful classic.