Band of Outsiders
Four years after Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard reimagined the gangster film even more radically with Band of Outsiders (Bande à part). In it, two restless young men (Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur) enlist the object of both of their fancies (Anna Karina) to help them commit a robbery—in her own home. This audacious and wildly entertaining French New Wave gem is at once sentimental and insouciant, effervescently romantic and melancholy, and it features some of Godard’s most memorable set pieces, including the headlong race through the Louvre and the unshakably cool Madison dance sequence.
The Criterion Collection ports their old DVD edition of Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders over to DVD, basing the transfer off of a new 2010 restoration of the film. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc with a new 1080p/24hz transfer.
The new restoration and the new high-definition transfer both offer an improvement over the previous DVD, though it’s probably not as substantial as one would possibly expect. The source materials do look noticeably cleaner and this aspect of the new transfer is the biggest improvement. Much of the dirt and debris that was present in the DVD’s transfer is now gone, along with the many tram lines that appeared in places. Pulsating is minimal and I don’t recall any frame jumps or juttering. At worst I noticed some wear at the edge of the frame in places and the odd spec but that’s about it. The damage present on the DVD wasn’t heavy itself, but the improvements are noticeable.
The transfer itself does deliver a more natural, filmic look in comparison to the DVD, though having said that the DVD’s transfer was nothing to mock; When the source allowed it delivered a sharp, highly detailed image with little noise and decent contrast. The Blu-ray’s transfer improves over it in the ways one would expect: it doesn’t present any noticeable compression noise, delivers sharper lines and edges, mind you when the source allows, and better renders the film’s grain structure. Contrast does look better with cleaner gray levels and deep blacks, and it has no noticeable digital anomalies to speak of. Like with the DVD’s transfer the source creates some issues because of the film’s on-the-fly style of shooting, meaning some shots jump about or look a little out-of-focus. But these are issues inherent in the print and not a condition of the transfer.
We don’t get a massive improvement, but the improvements it does offer are noticeable enough, and it does look closer to a projected film.
The film’s shooting style and the equipment used does limit the sound to begin with but the lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono track sounds quite a bit better than the DVD’s Dolby Digital track. It’s not a lively track, and fidelity is still lacking, but the minor distortion I always felt was present in the DVD’s track is gone and dialogue is certainly not as muffled.
All supplements have been ported over from the DVD.
First is a Visual Glossary put together by Criterion, showing 31 clips from the film that have references to other films, novels, or are inside-jokes of sorts. The references range from the novel that inspired the film to Chaplin, to vague references involving previous films that featured the Louvre. Admittedly I missed a lot of these references while watching the film, though most are of the “blink and you miss it” variety. The feature runs over 18-minutes.
There’s also 5-minutes of clips from an episode of Cinéma de notre temps featuring an interview with Jean-Luc Godard with some behind the scenes footage from the shoot of Band of Outsiders. Godard briefly talks about the New Wave and the purpose behind it, breaking the conventions and rules of filmmaking.
Criterion then includes a couple of new interviews (well, they were new for the DVD edition when it was released back in 2003) with Anna Karina and cinematographer Raoul Coutard. Karina recalls how she first met Godard (she turned down a small role in Breathless that would have required her to appear nude) and then moves on to Le petit soldat and A Woman is a Woman. She shares personal memories, like what it was like going to the movies with him, and how it was working with him and Coutard on Band of Outsiders. Her segment runs about 18-minutes.
Coutard talks about the more technical aspects of working on a “New Wave” film, which could present some technical challenges, like the handheld equipment and how it presented limitations in sound. He also goes over lighting and what it was like working under Godard. This interview runs about 11-minutes.
Both interviews are fine and informative, though the two have participated in many other interviews that more or less cover the same material.
Criterion then includes Agnès Varda’s short film Les fiancés du pont Mac Donald, a 3-minute silent that features Godard and Karina. Also featured in Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7, the charming short features the two as lovers and a scenario that plays out differently depending on whether Godard wears his trademark shades or not. It’s a rather humourous and loving tribute to silent cinema and the two.
We then get two trailers, the original one and the 2002 rerelease trailer. The booklet, though a bit different in layout in comparison to the DVD’s, also has all of the same material: an essay by poet Joshua Clover, a reprint of descriptions by Godard for the three main characters, and the reprint of a 1964 interview between Godard and critic Jean Collet, who talk about the film. Again it’s an excellent collection of material and makes for a great inclusion to the set.
They’re all worth going through but as a whole the supplements are generally unspectacular with only a few excellent features in the bunch.
The supplements haven’t been updated unfortunately, but the new transfer does offer a noticeable improvement over the DVD and admirers of the film may want to pick up the Blu-ray on that basis alone.