As part of our ongoing series (yea, I know, there are so many series going on around here, it’s starting to look like NBC) on Artsy French Movies, let me present the movie of the night. I mean, not exactly the only movie of the night, but I don’t think Candy Bottoms: Nuns in Heat III really deserves a review of its own (my roommate gives it two thumbs up. well at least one, right this moment).
The movie is Band of Outsiders… Bande à part in French, notable in that it also happens to be Tarentino’s production company’s name: what a freaking nerd.
I know, it’s quite surprising I had never seen that movie given that 1) I spent a small but crucial share of my formative years studying in Paris and 2) I have seen most French classics of that time. especially Nouvelle Vague ones (and no, it was not to try and impress some cute bookish girl with an infatuation for old movies. actually, maybe it was. never mind).
There is a reasonable explanation for that: I really cannot stand Jean-Luc Godard. Not the work, the man. See: I was apparently born a couple decades too late. I would have probably liked him ok back then. What makes me dislike him is not even the way he very efficiently shot his own career in the foot, back in the sixties, by abandoning art production in favor of political involvement with a few fringe ideologies. Granted, he did not make the best choice in his fringe ideology affiliations (Mao anyone?), but still, that’s the kind of thing I could actually like him for. No: the problem is that he has now become an insufferable old snob, more full of himself than ever. Whining, staring at his navel, fustigating the youth of today and overall assuming his position as compulsory authority of modern cinema. Always that same old pattern: people overturned by their ambition into the very people they were setting themselves against, rebellious kids turning bourgeois, punk joining the establishment, burning man selling t-shirts on the web etc.
Plus, the man is an awful bore, dribbling inane vacuous aphorisms on life and himself whenever he manages to grab a camera.
So, while I absolutely love François Truffaut, and even though they worked together a lot, I had always ignored a few “seminal” French snobby movies, on the sole ground that they wore his signature. Bande à part was one.
Was I missing out?
Tough call. I’d say yes, if only because I realized it had been widely pillaged paid hommage to by every other director born ever since: a whole bunch of obscure references in even the most mundane movies that had thus far escaped my notice have been exposed before my eyes. From now on, whenever I’ll be watching one of these tribute-laced indie movies, I’ll belong to that group of assholes who break a haughty little smile and nod to the screen knowingly, while the rest of the theater scratch their head and ask each other “WTF was this gratuitous, absolutely meaningless scene doing there?”. One out of many such directors, is the boy Quentin of course. It should come as no surprise that somebody who probably wets himself at the mere mention of any black&white movie spoken in French, lifted more than a few scenes from there, such as a certain impromptu dance scene (Pulp Fiction Jack Rabit Slim’s).
On the other hand, narration and dialogs ring utterly fake. A problem common to many Nouvelle Vague movies. Trying to say too much, always sound witty or edgy, makes all the characters sound like the many voices of a unique author, and the narration reeks of pedantry.
Of course, it’s not all bad acting and so-so dialogs. there also are a few unavoidable mythical scenes. The 9 minute 10 seconds, world record breaking, sprint visit of the Louvres by the three heroes is definitely one. And it is too bad that doing so nowadays would probably merely causes the guardians to roll their eyes, sigh and nonchalantly call security in the next room with their walkie-talkies… because I would have loved to do it. Maybe some other museum in the world… will have to think about it.
So good movie overall. Though not anywhere as good as A bout de souffle (Breathless). If you must only see one artsy B&W French movie this Summer, let A bout de souffle be it (incidentally, Godard shot it, but Truffaut wrote the screenplay, which makes a world of difference).
The latter also features much more shots of French girls wearing risqué sixties underwear, if that’s your thing.