Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) are two English students who have an idea of how to get hold of a lot of cash: a simple robbery. What could be easier than the type of crime they have read about in books and seen in the movies, especially when their target is wide open to exploitation, as they see today when they head out to the island mansion in suburban Paris where a fellow student of theirs lives. She is Odile (Anna Karina), and she stays with her aunt there, where in one of the unlocked rooms there lies a stash of cash, ripe for the picking...
The confusion about whether real life should be more like the movies was never quite so muddled as it was in writer and director Jean-Luc Godard's Bande à part, and that in spite of it often being described as his most accessible work. Perhaps the trouble was that he had such a serious reputation, particularly after he left the decade of the sixties behind, that this coloured our perceptions of his most famous period of work, so when he was being flighty and playful it bred a suspicion in many viewers: how were we meant to take this? Was Godard playing a trick on the audience by having his three principals act out their story as if they're not sure if they're in a movie themselves?
Every so often, just when you're thinking, right, this is a sincere crime thriller or has something genuine to say about relationships, along would come a scene which sent up the idea of anything in any kind of film like that as the purest artifice. The most famous of those was the impromptu dance the trio perform halfway through, yes, the sequence which inspired Quentin Tarantino so much he had his own dance in Pulp Fiction, not to mention the fact he named his production company after this film. The gang of three are sitting about chatting earnestly when all of a sudden they take to the floor of the café, busting moves in time with the Michel Legrand music on the soundtrack while Godard's narrator tells us what they're thinking.
Franz is thinking about Odile's kissable lips, Odile wondering if the boys notice her breasts bouncing around, and of course Arthur is contemplating the vastness of eternity, yet another example of the director prompting the audience to ponder if he's joking or not. In his way, he is and he isn't, both parodying the conventions of Hollywood genres and buying into them wholeheartedly, just as his main characters do. Mind you, a short time before Odile called on a minute's silence so the film could sober up a bit, and though she only got about half of one this jesting was very much part of the texture of the piece. Though the games they are playing unite the gang, it was very much Odile that they revolved around, and similarly how the film does the same for Karina.
Many's an unwary film buff who has been taken with Anna's personality in a Godard movie, and if there was one signature performance in that collection of work, it was her Odile here. She becomes the poster girl for a curious kind of escapism, that tells you you can lose yourself in the cinema, but don't be surprised if the rest of the world doesn't exactly follow suit, and if it does it'll be mirroring the way the movies play out in a manner that might well be mocking you: imagine being a big horror movie fan only to be killed by a vampire. If that's not what happens in this instance, it's not far off, as the characters discover a gulf between how their big screen heroes would have handled the robbery, and the actual bungling that they carry out when their shaky plan goes into action. But even then, the serious elements are offset by such examples of joie de vivre as seeing The Louvre as fast as possible (they break the record), all the while admitting this chilly landscape they fantasise in is only as magical as they're willing to make it - or delude one another.