Day 3 brought me a couple of Godard films from 1964, one an acknowledged classic that I am fairly lukewarm on, and the other a lesser known gem that proved to be quite surprising.
Band of Outsiders (1964); viewing: second
After the troubled production and disappointing box-office return of Contempt, Godard conjured up Band of Outsiders, a much more accessible and critic friendly offering. Ostensibly a crime picture, Outsiders deals with Odile (Anna Karina), a lonesome and easily impressed schoolgirl who falls in with a couple of young criminals (Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur), and who together decide to rob an old man living in Karina's house. The plot is simple enough, but of course it merely works to service Godard's intentions of flouting conventions and giving this genre tale his own, distinct spin.
It's tough for me to pinpoint exactly why, after two viewings now, Band of Outsiders has failed to have much of an impact on me. Richard Brody's excellent book Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard says of Outsiders: "Though otherwise free from direct interference from Columbia's executives, Godard did too good a job of internalizing their standards and fulfilling their wishes. Band of Outsiders is one of Godard's least substantial and adventuresome films, as well as his most conventional one." The word that sticks out to me there is "adventuresome". It occurs to me that this adventurous feeling is a big part of what makes these 60's films feel so alive and potent. Even if that sense of adventure doesn't necessarily come from the content of the narrative itself (Vivre sa vie), it is nevertheless always present in one form or another. If that adventure is in Band of Outsiders, then it is present to a much lesser degree; despite its warm and free atmosphere, the film sometimes just feels like it's lacking a charge. Karina does a good job, but the limits of Odile's character inhibit her from being able to bring all that much to the part. Likewise, Frey and Brasseur are fine as Franz and Arthur, but part of the problem is that these characters, who have their occasional charm, are mostly just flat and unappealing. Even some of the typically "Godardian" touches added to the film feel a bit unsure, such as Brasseur's over-the-top demise.
Of course, there are some glorious moments. Probably the best known scene (and my favorite) is the Madison Dance, a sequence where Karina and the two guys do a charming dance to a jukebox in a diner, and Godard as the voice of the omniscient narrator tells us precisely what's going through their heads during this seemingly joyful act of expression. Another great little moment comes when the trio, killing time before their big heist, decide to break a world record by running through the Louvre as fast as they can. Band of Outsiders, I should make clear, is not a film I dislike at all, and though I've harped on some of the negatives, I actually do still have an affection for it. Godard continues showing a striking command of his visuals, and you can always count on him to at least make an interesting movie, which Band of Outsiders certainly is. It just simply feels slight compared to what I've watched up until now.
A Married Woman (1964); viewing: first
Why isn't this movie more well known? It's actually really wonderful. I quite frankly had never heard of it before putting together this marathon, and only included it after being told it was an essential part of Godard's 60's oeuvre. Like other Godard films of this time, the broad plot outline is fairly simple: A married woman, Charlotte (Macha Meril) is engaged in an affair with older actor Robert (Bernard Noel), while living out a mundane, materialistic day-to-day life with her husband Pierre (Phillipe Leroy) and son. When she finds out from the doc that she's pregnant, and she doesn't know who the father is, she must make a decision on how to proceed with her life.
Godard made A Married Woman in the wake of his divorce from Anna Karina, after finding out she was having an affair. This obviously accounts for some of the deep connections the film has to Godard's real life situation: Meril's hair is of course done in the typical Anna Karina style giving her a remarkable resemblance, and as Brody points out in Everything Is Cinema, the age of the actors playing the roles all corresponded to their real life counterparts; those being Godard, Karina, and the actor she was having an affair with. But aside from those touches, what also makes A Married Woman feel like an extremely personal film (maybe his most personal yet), is that it is the most overtly philosophical work Godard had done at this point in his career, possibly reflecting an existentialist mindset he was experiencing in the wake of his divorce. It also has a very abstract and experimental visual style as well, and for me it very often felt like an early draft of the kind of thing he would go on to do with 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. Meril's narration is mostly comprised of a string of associative, stream of conscious thoughts that bolster this existentialist mood. The full title of the movie is A Married Woman: Fragments of A Film Shot in 1964, and indeed many of the shots we get of Charlotte are only as fragments, individual body parts, being caressed and cared for as almost materialistic items, disconnected from a person.
Godard also employs all kinds of visual tricks and interesting editing throughout, making this a compelling follow up to the charming yet slight Band of Outsiders. I am baffled as to why this is not as well known as his other 60's work; it is equally as impressive and original as any of them. It's a fascinating film to watch, and felt like Godard both trekking into new, exciting territory and laying new ground for things to come. A Married Woman was the first of four films in a row in my marathon that I will be viewing for the very first time, and if this was any indication of things to come I should be in for a real treat.