One of the most undeniably cool movies I’ve seen, Band of Outsiders by Jean-Luc Godard is the story of three young adults who scheme to rob a neighbor. Everything that takes is by chance, including their friendship by ending up in a class together and the woman (played to vulnerable excellence by Anna Karina) who accidentally slipped to her boyfriend that a fellow tenant in her apartment building is loaded.
Like you’d expect from Godard, though, this is a classic case of style over substance. As meaty as the story is, the Band gets its bite from its filmmaking techniques; the black-and-white imagery of a bleak home accompanied by melancholy music foils the outrageous fun of the famous Madison dance scene in which the three heroes dance to a (possibly imaginary) R&B song.
This high contrast makes the pacing uneven at times, swirling between quiet moments of plotting with high-intensity crime, but that’s probably the point. These are individuals who are clearly uncomfortable and not equipped to pull something like this off, so it’s uncomfortable for us the audience to watch them.
The icing on the cake is in the final scene; as characters drive off, their discussion recaps what essentially the theme of the film is. There is a dialogue on the nature of humanity, whether we are even meant to band together, or if we are always individuals at heart, ready to break apart.
This concept is reflective both of the French New Wave as well as this film’s overall influence by American culture; the sense of individual over the community is a pretty groundbreaking idea in 1960s French cinema, reminding us how groundbreaking this film and the ideas it presents really are.
As almost a middle ground between the more thrilling Breathless and the more lighthearted and comedic A Woman is a Woman, Band of Outsidersmay be the ultimate Godard film, seamlessly blending his humor with cold-hearted intensity.