Wednesday, June 29, 2016

New Vague

There's a new print of Jean-Luc Godard's Bande a part (1964) making the rounds.  I'd never seen it in a theatre so I decided to check it out, even if I had misgivings.

Godard was the newest of the French new wave filmmakers of the 1950s and 60s, and arguably the most celebrated, but he often felt to me like the emperor's new clothes.  He did startling things with film technique, sure, but while some claimed he was commenting on or deconstructing cinematic language, it seemed to me here was a guy who couldn't tell a story if his life depended on it. 

I saw all the "narrative" films by Godard from his 60s period, before he got really radical, but I watched them more out of a sense of duty than delight.  I wanted to see what everyone was talking about. Bande a part is a good example.  It does have a story (taken from a novel), done in one of Godard's favorite genres, the gangster film, but it has few of the conventional payoffs of such films.  I wondered if seeing it on the big screen, with an audience, would change my mind.

Well, a little, but not much.  We've gone from the emperor's new clothes to the emperor's weird clothes.  The basic plot has two men romancing a woman, but also using her for a caper where they steal money from the rich, older man she works for.  They plan a heist but it doesn't work out as planned.  This is a concept that's worked before, but in Godard's hands, you're not going to get what you expect.

You can tell from the famous opening credits he doesn't play by the rules.

Then there's the most famous moment in the film (perhaps in all of Godard) where the three go to a café and decide to dance.

There's also a bit where they're waiting to pull off the heist and decide to visit the Louvre.

Godard has lots of ideas, he just doesn't want to incorporate them into a dramatic whole, and doesn't produce (or is incapable of producing) traditional things like consistent characters, suspense, dramatic arcs.  Thus he can be fun in short doses, but his features tend to be a slog.

Most of Bande a part has the characters--who rarely act like recognizable human beings--moping around, discussing philosophy, falling in and out of love for no reason, driving around aimlessly and pretending they're tough.  When there's finally a little action, you don't care that it's awkwardly staged--at least something is happening.

Pardon me for being bourgeois, but if Godard is going to upend traditional narrative, he better replace it with something worth watching.  It was nice to finally see the movie up on a big screen, where you could make out details and enjoy the locations, but being stuck in a theatre sometimes made you wish you were back home with a DVD you could pause or, better, fast forward.


Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I fast forwarded just through the dance sequence.

8:33 AM, June 29, 2016  

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