Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 8. 1966.
Jean-Luc Godard has been described by the British director Peter Brook as being "far and away the most interesting film director working today." It is safe to say that Bande a Part will be hailed in some circles as being an important contribution to film Art (with an A) and further proof of the superiority of European film-makers over their Anglo-American counterparts. For my part, I found this film to be thoroughly bad. with little to recommend it, One might call it reactionary in view of its emphasis on flights of fancy which can have little relevance to anyone other than Godard. It is a poor film because it is not entertainment, in the best sense of the word.
There are two principal objections to this film. Firstly, the characters are doing nothing which could be construed as being interesting or involving for the audience. Arthur and Franz, having entertained thoughts of larceny, enlist Odile's cooperation in the proposed venture. The three then proceed on a jaunt of aimless drifting and adolescent activity which, although pretty in parts, inevitably bogs down in a morass of irrelevancies. There is no attempt to build up suspense and the robbery, when it is finally staged, falls flat on its face, the senses having been dulled by the previous hour's superfluous meanderings.
Arthur's death is unmoving because his paroxysms echo the previous "parody" on what is presumably a Hollywood killing. The "parody" muffs because no Hollywood killing ever looked like this. The film crawls round In a tedious circle without getting anywhere. At the film's core lies a stolid blancmange of stagnating non-significant significance, and it is a reactionary film because Godard made it with this end in mind. The mess left me bored.
My second objection concerns this boredom and reflects, to some extent, the old dichotomy between form and content. There is a category of films which describe boring people doing boring things but as Antonioni and, to a lesser extent. Fellini have demonstrated, the situations can be presented with such artistry that we are excited by them. In the case of Bande a Part (and I include it and its characters in this category. Godard's technical resources and imagination are so poverty-stricken that we cannot even take refuge In the appreciation of cinematic brilliance as compensation for the appalling lack of dramatic content.
In this film there is an occasional close-up. Rather more frequent are the tracking shots which consist, in the main, of placing the camera alternately on the front and back of a moving car. This enables us to experience the full impact of the three characters and their inane conversations.
The most common visual image is. however, a simple one It consists of a person, people, vehicle, or vehicles, moving on to the screen from either the left or the right. Godard waits until the object is about onethird to one-half way across the frame and then, fixing the object. pans in the direction that it is moving. This process is repeated in the next shot, either from the same direction or from the opposite one. In fact. this process is repeated ad nauseum, and constitutes about three-quarters of the film's running time. During the last half-hour of Bande a Part I predicted, near enough to exactly, every camera movement that took place. This does not make for very exciting cinema. If Godard intended this monotonous technique then he can show his films to himself: if he did not then his incompetence and lack of inspiration stand revealed.
This film was advertised as being a spoof on the "Bogart-type" gangster film. I do not accept this as the director's intention, but since Humphrey Bogart has been mentioned I would point out that there is more of the stuff of which good cinema is made in his gangster films than ever existed in Bande a Part. Indeed, a look at the Bogart films The Maltese Falcon, The Bifr Sleep, or Desperate Hours, would show only too clearly just how gutless and unimaginably pallid Godard's film is.