Jean-Luc Godard is thought of as one of the most talented, innovative filmmakers to ever make a film. Why then can I not enjoy his films? Talent is one thing, but I've yet to truly enjoy one of them, including 1964's Band of Outsiders.
Living with her aunt in Paris, young, quiet Odile (Anna Karina) goes about her business without really offending anyone. At a English-speaking class she takes, Odile meets Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur), two friends who have both taken a liking to her. There is something else going on though because Odile told both men that her aunt's live-in boyfriend has thousands and thousands of dollars hidden away in the house, and she knows where it is. Both Franz and Arthur want to rob the house blind -- and Odile seems just fine with that -- but as the plan starts to develop, things go awry almost immediately.
I get it. I do. Godard is a freaky talented filmmaker. As a forerunner of the French New Wave that helped throw the accepted notions of filmmaking on its side, Godard was a director ahead of his time. His stories were darkly humorous, his characters far from perfect and were some of the first anti-heroes, but mostly it was his visual style that separated himself from the rest. With his camera, he was a master. As is the case here, Godard utilizes incredible tracking shots -- with characters walking and driving -- and generally just doesn't go for the status quo. Characters directly address the camera, and when they're not, that camera is moving around on a swivel like it's life depended on it.
In a time when a lot of movies just placed a camera in front of the action and just let things happen, it's a visual treat to watch a visually interesting movie to watch. It's hard to describe that because it sounds so criminally simplistic. These are great movies to watch. But to enjoy? I'm not there yet. The story and tone is hard to wrap my head around. Is it funny? Is it serious? Is it both? I'm okay with it bouncing back and forth a little bit, but not as much as 'Outsiders' does. The problem on top of that is simple though. The attempts at humor aren't funny. Franz and Arthur as movie characters are movie afficionados. In one "shootout," the duo blast away at each other, and after two or three minutes of stumbling and falling around, Arthur quasi-dies. Funny it is not, and worse than that, it's tedious humor.
The story never develops into anything interesting, and when the attempt is made, it's too late. A lousy story on top of dull, uninteresting characters though is basically a deal-breaker. Frey's Franz has no personality. His purpose for being there is to be Arthur's opposite; nice, polite and handsome. That's it. Brasseur's Arthur is pointedly aggressive, brutally honest and an obvious manipulator. The worst though is Karina's Odile, an innocent of sorts who gets in far over her head. The Odile character is one of the most obnoxious, mind-blowingly stupid I've ever seen in a movie. When the robbery plan comes to its execution, she starts flailing around, begging her partners in crime not to be her partners in crime. Oh, and these amateur crooks are stopped in their tracks by the ultimate security measure.....a locked door! Oh no, the injustice! How ever will our intrepid heroes make it through?!?
Because it is trying something different, I can't completely torch this movie. An obvious influence on Quentin Tarantino, a dance sequence (Yes, a dance sequence) is both bizarre and oddly appealing to watch (short clip HERE). Later, to "kill time," the trio visits the Louvre in record time. How do we see that? The three running through the Louvre in a series of uncut shots. It's almost surreal watching it. Is it surreal good though or surreal bad? It ends up being somewhere in between unfortunately. I'll keep looking for that Godard film I truly enjoy.
Band of Outsiders <---trailer (1964): **/****