The title “Band of Outsiders” may refer to the main characters but is more of an apt description for director Jean-Luc Godard and his fellow participants in the French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague), like Francois Truffaut. They upset the cinema status quo and explored new ways of expression in the medium.
Godard’s seventh film, Band of Outsiders, is part crime story, part love story, but is just as much about the storyteller as it is the story. It’s reminiscent of a novel with an omniscient narrator who not only tells the story but comments on it as well. Godard draws attention to the fact that he is the storyteller, crediting himself as “Jean-Luc Cinema Godard” in the opening credits, performing the voiceover narration, and alluding to other films and works of art.
Loosely based on Fools’ Gold by Dolores Hitchens, the story is about two young men, Franz and Arthur (Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur), who have decided to rob a house where they know a lot of cash is lying around. They learned this from Odile (Anna Karina), a young girl who lives in the house and takes a class with them learning English. Although it seems Franz and Odile are interested in each other, he, likely influenced by American films, is cool and aloof toward her while Arthur aggressively pursues her. Though he comes off a tad creepy at first, she accepts Arthur’s advances. During their English class, the teacher reads from Romeo and Juliet, a tragic tale of young lovers. Godard adds tension with the choice, possibly foreshadowing events, which grow dire when Arthur’s hoodlum uncle gets involved and wants a piece of the action.
What makes Band of Outsiders so delightful is the way Godard plays with conventions. Odile looks directly into the camera, as if for help, when they talk of planning the robbery. Franz asks for a moment of silence and nothing can be heard of the soundtrack for several seconds. During the classic Madison-dance scene, the narrator offers digressions and stops the music as he reveals the trio’s thoughts while they keep dancing. At the conclusion, the narrator suggests a technicolor sequel set in the tropics that never came to be nor was likely ever intended.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. As stated in the booklet, “This digital master came from a restoration undertaken by Gaumont in 2010. For the restoration, a high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm composite fine grain at Eclair Laboratories in Epinay-sur-Seine, France.” The image looks clean with rare specks popping up and reveals a film grain throughout. Grays look good across the various shades of gray and blacks are solid. Focus can get soft on occasion, but most objects are well defined.
Also, “The original [French] monaural soundtrack was restored from a 35mm optical soundtrack positive.” Though limited by the source, the audio is serviceable. Dialogue is frequently clear and balances with the effects and score, though the dynamic range is understandably limited. Some of the effects, like the guns, sound flat and inauthentic.
Though no commentary track, the Visual Glossary (HD, 18 min) is a great resource that documents 31 allusions and in-jokes Godard inserted throughout the film, including Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Rimbaud, and the Nouvelle Vague. In “Godard, 1964” (1080i, 5 min), the director talks about “certain myths that we needed to get rid of” which led to the members of the New Wave rebelling against the rules of filmmaking. In a 2002 review for Criterion, actress “Anna Karina” (1080i, 18 min) is delightful as she talks about working with her ex-husband Godard. Also conducted in for Criterion in 2002, cinematographer “Raoul Coutard” (1080i, 11 min), who made 16 movies with Godard, discusses the director’s work practices and shooting Band of Outsider. “Les fiancés du pont Mac Donald (1961)” (1080i, 3 min) is a silent segment that appears in Agnes Varda’s Cleo From 5 to 7. The cast includes Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina, Sami Frey, and Daniele Girard. There are also the original theatrical (HD, 2 min) and 2001 re-release (1080i, 3 min) trailers as well as a 24-page illustrated booklet that offers ‘Madison-sur-Seine,” an essay by poet and critic Joshua Clover; “The Characters According to Godard for the film’s press book, and “No Questions Asked,” a 1964 interview with the director.
Criterion’s Band of Outsiders is highly recommended. While a simple story, it also serves as a wonderful exploration of the language of cinema, and Criterion has delivered a quality high-def presentation accompanied by an adequate amount of extras to inform the viewer about it and its creation.