In his first eight years as a director (1960-67), Jean-Luc Godard released 15 features and numerous shorts, including the most audacious and influential works of the French New Wave, and by extension, of anyone in the world. Stylistically, "Band of Outsiders" (1964), the seventh of these, was a return to his debut, the exuberant, anything-goes "Breathless" (1960).
The story — loosely adapted from the American novel "Fools' Gold," by Dolores Hitchens — provides a simple framework for Godard to elaborate and riff on: Two 20-something slackers (Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey) plan to steal a bundle of cash, which they have been told about by the girl they both love (Anna Karina). But all their info about how to pull off such a caper comes from American movies, so things do not go well. The plot may be thin, but the film moves in unpredictable narrative fits and starts. There are comic digressions and asides — including a sudden, barely motivated dance number, which Hal Hartley would later pay homage to in "Simple Men."
The contents of Criterion's new Blu-ray duplicate the company's older DVD release, except the black-and-white feature is transferred from a more recent restoration. Unsurprisingly, the visual improvement is notable, with just the right degree of grain and contrast.
Besides a nicely done booklet, the extras come from the DVD. In lieu of a commentary, we get 18 minutes of excerpts, with a voiceover explaining cultural references that would otherwise fly right by anyone under 60. Also included are trailers; 2002 interviews with Karina and cinematographer Raoul Coutard, totaling a half hour; five minutes of clips of Godard from a 1964 TV show; and Agnes Varda's three-minute 1961 silent comedy, "Les fiances du pont Mac Donald," starring Godard, Karina and other members of the cast of "Band of Outsiders."
"Band of Outsiders," aka Bande à part (Criterion, Blu-ray, $39.95)
--ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).