Bande A Part

This time round one of the best loved movies that starred 1960s cinematic icon Anna Karina. Sadly, Anna died on Saturday, with details of her death being released yesterday.

She’ll be best remembered for her collaborations with one time husband Jean-Luc Godard during the heyday of the Nouvelle Vague such as Une Femme Est Une Femme, Alphaville and Pierrot le Fou but most especially for Bande à part (Band of Outsiders).


‘We had fun. Lots of fun,’ Karina told Jason Solomans in 2016 after a screening of the film at the BFI. ‘I have to say we didn’t think about making great careers or things like that – we just wanted to be actors and play.’

Bande à part was shot quickly and certainly appears playful – even though Karina in reality was in a bad place at this time, suffering from depression. Bande à part looks as spontaneous as just about any movie ever made but this is often an illusion. Seeing for the first time, I might have guessed that the famous dance scene was entirely improvised. It wasn’t. Three weeks of one hour’s dance practice each night preceded Godard shooting it. It was by far the most carefully rehearsed scene in the film.

Godard incidentally claimed to have invented the Madison dance but was lying. It was already a craze in the land of a thousand dances just like the Twist, the Stroll and the Cha-Cha-Cha.

Bande à part can be spontaneous too. It was made cheaply and shot in only 25 days. Godard would write much of his dialogue at the last minute, meaning his actors would not have the time to rehearse as thoroughly as they normally would. Additionally, he would generally insist on only shooting one or two takes.

Released in France during the summer of 1964, Bande à part wasn’t the critical or box-office success that you might have imagined. Godard himself was far from fond of it. Over the years its reputation has grown though, and this owes more than a little to Quentin Tarantino repeatedly talking it up during the 1990s, together with his decision to name his production company Band Apart in homage.

With its range of cinema/literature/pop culture references and in-jokes throughout its ninety minute run time, it’s easy to see why he was such a fan.

Band a Part - Nouvelle Vague

These include the two male leads, Arthur (Claude Brasseur) and Franz (Sami Frey), jokingly re-enacting the gunfight between Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett; Arthur and Odile walking towards the Place de Clichy at night and passing a shop called Nouvelle Vague; and then there’s the man who bills himself here as Jean-Luc Cinéma Godard narrating early on: ‘The story till now, for people who’ve come in late. Three weeks ago… A hoard of money… an English class… a house by the river… a starry-eyed girl.’

If you want more detail, here you go. Odile (Anna Karina) stays with her adoptive aunt in a large, isolated villa on the outskirts of Paris and by a river, obviously. She’s naive and fragile and studies English in a night-school class with Arthur and Franz. Both predictably become besotted with her and continually compete for her affections. She mentions that a man who very occasionally stays at her home Monsieur Stoltz has carelessly stashed a pile of money in the cupboard of his room. Arthur and Franz being petty crooks, begin planning a burglary with her reluctant help.

Arthur, Odile and Franz

Our Band of Outsiders are far from the sleek thieves of many modern Hollywood movies who can audaciously rob casinos and banks with forensically detailed plans and high-tech gadgetry. This trio are incompetent to the extent that they might just manage to bungle taking candy from a baby. It’s probably best if the three people planning a robbery aren’t all part of a love triangle.

Bande à part can be great fun and exhilarating, as when the trio dash around the Louvre in an attempt to break the world record for the fastest time to run through the gallery. It can be melancholic too. ‘People always look sad and unhappy in the Métro,’ Odile observes at one point while sitting on a Métro carriage looking clearly sad and unhappy herself.

Quirky and inventive with well cast leads, this is Godard’s most accessible work along with A Bout de Souffle. The director has spoken of the three characters being equals – hence the rapidfire edits of close-ups of them that introduce the film but Odile is the heart of the film. The camera utterly adores her, just as much as Arthur and Franz do, even when she’s wearing a dowdy coat and looking utterly despondent.

Filming Bande à part proved therapeutic for Karina. She later claimed it saved her. She divorced Godard not long afterwards although she still happily agreed to star in his next film Pierrot le fou and says that this was the most fun she ever had while filming.

Band a Part - The Louvre

Of course, Karina didn’t only make movies with Godard. Over her long career, she also worked with Agnès Varda, Roger Vadim, Jacques Rivette, Volker Schlöndorff, Tony Richardson and Rainer Werner Fassbinder to name only six huge talents.

In 1973, she also made a movie herself, Vivre Ensemble (Living Together) which debuted at Cannes. Victoria was her second and final outing as a director came out in 2008. A French-Canadian musical road movie, she appeared in this one too, her acting swan song.

Anna Karina (Hanne Karin Blarke Bayer): September 1940 – December 2019