Jean Luc Godard was renowned for his experimental film work as part of the French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vaugue) film movement. Out of all of his films Bande à Part is his most carefree and accessible appealing to a wider audience with its gangster film inspired plot.
Bande à Parte was adapted from a 1958 pulp fiction novel by Dolores Hitchen entitled Fool’s Gold and follows three youths as they plot to steal a large amount of money. The three protagonists Odile, Arthur and Franz meet in an English language class and it is revealed that Odile has previously told Franz that the mysterious Mr Stoltz who lives in her home with her and her Aunt Victoria stores vast amounts of money there. Franz and Arthur have dreams of becoming gangsters and decide to persuade Odile to help them steal Stoltz’s money.
However, Arthur’s uncle uncovers the plan to steal the money and wants to commit the crime himself, which forces the three to commit the crime earlier than expected. When they arrive at the house the money is not where they expected and is instead littered around the house; they are discovered by Odile’s Aunt so end up tying her up, gagging her and stashing her in a wardrobe. They only find a fraction of the money so return to ask Aunt Victoria where the rest of the money has been hidden but find her dead. They leave the house in a panic but Arthur announces that he is going to go back under the pretence of checking if the aunt is really dead. In reality Arthur has realised the money has been hidden in the doghouse and returns to take it for himself, however his Uncle also arrives to steal the money and they end up in a gun battle that results in both their deaths. Franz and Odile flee and use the money to board a ship destined to South America.
Whilst the film appears to pay homage to B movies, film noir and more general themes from American cinema with its multitude of pop culture references it also draws its influences from literature with references to Jack London, Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare. Two scenes from the film that are famously noted for their innovative style and carefree and playful nature are the scenes featuring a minute silence and the Madison dance. In the first, the three characters go to a busy cafe to discuss the robbery during their conversation Franz calls for a minute silence at which point all of the sound from the film, including the background noises from the cafe and the characters is cut plunging the film into complete silence. As an audience there is something quite uncomfortable about this sudden change to soundlessness and the minute silence, which is in fact only 36 seconds seems to take an eternity.
Here’s the scene:
This scene also draws attention to this work as a construction as the complete removal of the sound interrupts the narrative flow of the film. Most narrative films endeavor to create a feeling of naturalism where we become involved in the plot but the silence causes discomfort and makes us clearly aware that we are watching a construction. However in all of his films Godard plays with these notions through such techniques as cutting the sound or having characters address the camera and the audience directly, which Odile later does in the course of the film.
The second scene, the Madison dance scene also takes place in the cafe, Arthur and Odile begin to perform a line-dance with Franz joining in later. Whilst they are performing the dance the music cuts in and out, with the narrator coming in to express the characters inner emotions when the music is absent, and we are left unsure if there is in fact any music playing in the cafe. It was also this dance sequence that inspired the now famous dance scene from Pulp Fiction between John Travolta and Uma Thurman, and the dance combines a happy go lucky exuberance with a highly choreographed routine.
In this film Godard skilfully and playfully combines narrative, cinematography and experimental film techniques to create his most accessible film that is at times both sombre and comedic and is still a delight to watch time after time.
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