Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 11. 1966.
Film reviews again attacked [letter]
Sir,—Mr. Benson writes obstusely and immodestly on Jean-Luc Godard. It is surprising that he should miss so much of the substance of Bande a Part. Not to be interested in the film's ideas might leave him bored enough to spend the last third guessing camera shots, but it is odd that he should make his first complaint that 'the characters are doing nothing interesting or involving for the audience.' Isn't the matter in the simplest terms of high interest: the relations of the three, robbery, betrayal, death, flight? Yet the treatment of this is the great concern, and it is the disappointment of his notice that Mr. Benson writes on the film without giving any sign of his attitude to the meaning. as he conceives it. It makes his opinion hard to discuss.
He writes in a purposeful way of the action as 'aimless drifting . . a morass of irrelevancies . . . superfluous meanderings' but not of his idea of the direction from which this deviates. Does he see the story of Odile, Franz and Arthur as a critical narrative of people living in fantasy and overtaken by real life: their involvement in B-film style and attitudes as causing Arthur's death; the shooting scene as the point of tragic convergence of the two elements in the action, the imagined and the real? Certainly they lose control of their plan . . . 'they couldn't put the brakes on now.'
Yet Arthur's death is also a moment of paradoxical triumph. He has been through this before in reel one and does not succumb now in an ordinary way to the forces of the world, out dies fortified by the style of his life. And that his death is to a certain extent heroic and tragic, and that Odile's and Franz's sailing away given a sense of happiness won, however precarious, and of resilience and continuity Tin our next episode we shall show the life of Franz and Odile in the tropics'), all claims that their life is justly triumphant. There is nothing merely arbitrary in this ineluctable ending tone. Final sympathies conflict with an 'objective' view of the action because the point of the film is its exploration of reality. The fluid nature of reality is the question and meaning in every situation, and involvement for the audience must take the form of continual fine discrimination.
'What's not clear is the part I'll be playing,' says Arthur. M. Godard has made an unequivocal statement about the band: 'Ils sont plus honnetes avec euxmemes que les autres. Ce ne sont pas eux qui sont a l'ecart due monde, c'est le monde qui est loin d'eux.' The film is not so simple. 'Les Autres' are not a substantially realised presence but rather implicit as the received notions brought to bear on the film. What Is the world, and how are we oriented? 'Franz did not know whether the world was becoming a dream or a dream the world.'
The words are Godard's. and his commentary is a controlling element of the presentation. Through it the B-movie manner becomes explicitly a part of the film's art—and the joke that 'classique modern comme disait le grand poete Eliot' offers one kind of justification for that. The narrator also extends the films reality to a straight poetry of description which orders the suburban confusion of the setting in the same way that the characters' art gives shape and meaning to their lives.
As critic and interpreter of his film Godard disposes the possible attitudes so that they play off against each other with the effect of an irony which is not reductive but which presents a witty humility before the limitations in any way of looking at the world.
Franz and Odile, however, survive this uncertainty and paradox in life to go off together at the end 'with a happiness that knew neither limits nor contradictions.' The virtues which come through the test are in Franz's case an understanding of the nature of the difficulty; his story from Jack London is about the problem of trying to indentify the truth. Odile is carried through the flux by her immense womanly sympathy; her moment in the film is her song in the Metro, where her response to the lonely and unhappy people is 'je suis semblable a vous. One of the radiant transformations of reality at the heart of Bande a Part is the appearance of Odile's sensitive idealism as the tough and viable attitude to life. It is Arthur, not a cynic but a romantic, who becomes the sacrifice of art. His name is Rimbaud, 'comme mon pere.'
One of the final remarks of Franz is on how rarely people come together: 'ils restent separes, mefiants et tragiques.' Against this is Arthur's dying thought of Odile as 'the legendary Indian bird which is born without feet and never stops flying . . it has long transparent wings which when closed will fit into the palm of your hand.'
'The shadow of a considerable indifference' is lifted. How could Mr. Benson not be interested in this film?
Peter Robb (1964)