Bande à part
d. Jean-Luc Godard / 1964 / France / 97 mins
Viewed at: The Box @ FACT (Liverpool, UK)
Still catching up: this time its screening number three for the Film & Philosophy course at FACT Liverpool.
First things first. I have to admit that although many consider this to be Godard’s best, most accessible film, its not particularly my favourite. Obviously it has its sublime moments, the Madison scene, the death scene(s) etc, but overall I find it a little bit stiff and staid, even considering its outward joyfullness. Admittedly, for such a serious guy, Godard makes some very playful films, and I do take great pleasure in Bande à part, I just feel that it fails to move me in the way that, say, À bout de souffle or any of Godard’s other 1960s masterpieces do.
Maybe I’m missing something. Bande à part is, after all, essentially a film about outward appearances and personal perceptions, populated by sharply drawn characters who are obsessed with how they look and how they are appear to others. As an extension of these obsessions, this is also a film about enforced individuality and the inevitability of human isolation. Godard’s characters are continually looking into mirrors or checking their reflections and large chunks of scenes in the classroom and on the train are given over to reciprocal gazing involving the main characters, as well as a cast of strangers. The initial title-card sequence is composed exclusively of a similar form of gaze, although this time its meanings are subverted by the rapid-fire editing and the close-up graphic matches on the three central characters.
On an extra-filmic level, Godard is also concerned with the process of ‘acting’ as a mediation between appearance and perception. In the extended opening scene, Arthur performs a ‘fake’ death (imitating Billy the Kid) and at the end he performs his ‘actual’ death, both of which are overly theatrical and neither of which seem ‘real’. Its important to remember, I suppose, that whilst certainly the cinema of revolution, the Nouvelle Vague was also the cinema of in-jokes, particularly once its reputation had grown and particularly for Godard. In Bande à part, Godard has his characters pass a shopping centre called ‘Nouvelle Vague’ and run boisterously through the Louvre. He plays with the film experience itself by introducing periods of silence and reconfiguring the place of film music, formal experimentations which are, of course, something of a Godard trademark. Yet he also constructs the opening credit sequence in such a way that we finally arrive at the following title card:
There are many reasons why Jean-Luc Godard is still so highly revered in cinema circles. The formal and informal inventiveness of Bande à part is but one of them.
For your viewing pleasure, the Madison scene: