- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2001

Reviewers probably are unwise to trust fond recollections of any movie they don't revisit every few years. When the gap between a first impression and a second reaches, say, 35 years, the disparity can be keenly disillusioning.
Such is the case with Jean-Luc Godard's "Band of Outsiders," in revival at the American Film Institute Theater for the next week. When relatively new, in the spring of 1966, the movie seemed an eccentric and wistful charmer, an intuitive variation on a pulp crime novel that replaced conventional suspense elements with an affectionate trust in the interplay of three young actors (Anna Karina, Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur) cast as impulsive and inept thieves.
American art-house distribution came about two years after the movie was shot, in a consistently overcast and chilly Paris in February and March 1964. The movie was selected for the 1965 New York Film Festival, but it was overshadowed in the Godard chronology of the time by "Contempt," which had Brigitte Bardot as a major distraction, and the science-fiction escapade "Alphaville," which stylized Paris in a more striking, largely nocturnal way while also trading on Miss Karina's doe-eyed appeal.
Danish by birth, Miss Karina was both Mrs. Godard and the filmmaker's pre-eminent muse from 1961 to 1967. I'm inclined to believe that her photogenic aura obscured more artistic weaknesses than posterity can conceal decently.
"Band of Outsiders" also may have shared enough random resemblances to Francois Truffaut's "Jules and Jim" to disarm admirers. Despite the failure to catch on in a big way, "Band" found receptive soft spots in numerous people. A couple of them, Quentin Tarantino and Hal Hartley, eventually were moved to incorporate homage sequences in movies of their own, "Pulp Fiction"and "Simple Men," respectively. Mr. Tarantino was enough of an admirer to name his production company, Band Apart, after the original French title, "Bande a Part."
In retrospect, the interludes that united admirers seem all too fleeting: the English class where Mr. Brasseur as Arthur and Miss Karina as Odile pass notes while the instructor is carried away with a French translation of scenes from "Romeo and Juliet"; the dance trio in which Arthur, Odile and Mr. Frey's Franz do the Madison in a restaurant; the lightning-quick tour of the Louvre that supposedly beats "the American record," a bit more than nine minutes, compressed into a half-minute or so that doesn't seem to do the joke justice.
At this juncture, Daniele Girard as the language teacher seems more appealing than her inattentive pupils. The most persuasive semblance of passion in the movie is her reading from Shakespeare. Mr. Godard seems to forget the comic setup of the sequence: The teacher has instructed the class to translate the lines into English as she recites in French. But the director fails to include any playback from these student transcriptions, which surely would have provided some humor. Mr. Godard covers the oversight by shifting attention to a student with movie ambitions; what he wants to know is the English for "a big $1 million movie."
Because $1 million movies are now bare-bones productions, time has deflated this joke to some extent.
The source material, a 1958 novel by Dolores Hitchens titled "Fool's Gold" (published in the "Serie Noire," the source for "Film Noir," the now ubiquitous and tiresome term of critical reverence) provided Mr. Godard with a pretext for digression in his own semidocumentary, didactic and romantic manner.
I suspect the manner has dated more than the source material, which deals with a robbery conspiracy that goes haywire. Franz and Arthur are unemployed and feckless pals who seize a get-rich-quick opportunity when Odile, who lives with her aunt, reveals that a boarder seems to be hoarding a cupboard full of fresh currency.
Jules Dassin's 1955 heist thriller "Rififi," revived earlier this year by Rialto, the same distributor that's handling "Band of Outsiders," may have placed Godardian amateurism at a disadvantage. The supposedly professional thieves of "Rififi" certainly hold up better than the novices of "Band of Outsiders."
The most evocative single aspect of the film a generation later may be the sound of a theme from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," a major hit at the time "Band" was in production. An amusing credit alludes to the "last score" of Michel Legrand, who had collaborated on some earlier Godard pictures and consented to the "Cherbourg" insert.
It's a little embarrassing to reflect that there wasn't much to justify a crush on "Band of Outsiders" in the first place.

TITLE: "Band of Outsiders" ("Bande a Part")
RATING: No MPAA rating (made in 1964, before the advent of the rating system; adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence)
CREDITS: Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Screenplay by Mr. Godard, based on the novel "Fool's Gold," by Dolores Hitchens. Narration by Mr. Godard. Cinematography by Raoul Coutard. Music by Michel Legrand. In French with English subtitles
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

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