Band of Outsiders (Bande à part): Film Highlight

A breathless jumble of film allusions, literary shout-outs, and exuberant pop-culture riffing, this gangster fantasia, dreamed up by Jean-Luc Godard in 1964, is dense with the director's personal checkpoints—from Fritz Lang films and American cartoons to his own mother's maiden name. And yet, watching the film today, you're struck by the melancholy that underlines and offsets every burst of fancy, every mad dash of beauty. Godard takes the basic plot of an American pulp novel—Dolores Hitchens's Fools' Gold, about two crooks who hook up with a girl so they can rob her aunt's house—and manages to sustain the illusion of forward momentum even when nothing is happening. And yet Godard the narrator distances us from the characters even as he's ostensibly bringing them closer—as in the movie's centerpiece, the wondrous sequence in which the two pop-stoked buddies (Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey), along with a woman (Anna Karina) they met in an English class, do a swivel-hipped "Madison" line dance. As the finger-popping leads jive around a makeshift dance floor, the jukebox suddenly cuts out, leaving only Godard's voice and the tramp-tramp-clap of the dancers' feet. The effect is akin to being awakened from a reverie, to the poignant instant in which perception ushers the present into the past. If anything, Godard's lyrical fondness for the fleeting youth and beauty of his band of outsiders is even more touching because it seems so delicate, so threatened—so pop.

 
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