Well, there’s the dance . . . the Madison. And there’s the mad sprint through the Louvre . . . nine minutes, the new record. But for me there’s no set piece in Band of Outsiders that can equal the dazzling effect that is Anna Karina’s face. At this point she was far from her early days as a model, getting several years’ worth of quick and cruel lessons in life and art from Godard; in Band of Outsiders Karina combines her natural wide-eyed angelic charm with an increasingly frustrated, worldly pragmatism, and it’s a winning, poignant combination. Her Odile, named after Jean-Luc Godard’s deceased mother, is hardly a naif, but you can tell she’s been used to playing one. As Godard wrote about her, “She lives, on the contrary, each day as it comes, each emotion as it comes, which she plunges into one after the other.”
When embroiled in a simultaneous criminal endeavor and love triangle, with Sami Frey’s collected yet fiery Franz and Claude Brasseur’s deceptively hangdog and simple Arthur, Karina’s Odile lights up with promise, excitement; perhaps Franz and Arthur’s silly plot to steal from her wealthy aunt will provide her with the sort of foolhardy fun that one sees in the movies. Yet like Godard by the time he made Band of Outsiders, perhaps she’s beyond buying into that kind of escapism (“Why a plot?” she asks, directly to camera).
Reality doesn’t exactly come crashing into their little scheme (though it is filmed with a realist aesthetic, and using Godard’s most conventional film grammar since Breathless), but there’s something inescapably tinny and perfunctory about their gains. Band of Outsiders is often described as “lighter than air” or a “lark,” and with its can-do New Wave attitude and lovely, languorously insouciant threesome, it surely is a hoot to watch, but its grey-sky sadness always seems to me as pronounced as its joy. Perhaps, even more so than in the violent turn of events, this mostly comes from the constant push-pull of Karina’s Odile; as Godard must have seen Karina as a source of happiness and despair at this point in their tumultuous relationship, he also makes Odile into his ideal—a Karina whose sadness he knew he might not be able to puncture much longer. She responds by staring back soulfully.