The It-est Girl

Anna Karina, NYC, 7/12/01

Anna Karina, NYC, 7/12/01

Anna Karina, who  between 1961 and 1966, starred in seven films made with her creative and romantic partner, Jean-Luc Godard, was a luminous, perfect presence in/of her moment, and preserved for the screen, that moment is forever. There has never been another actress like her.

Godard based his great “Band of Outsiders” (1964), on a dark thriller, “Fools’ Gold” by Dolores Hitchens, but stripped away most of the elaborate plotting, until he had “a romantic girl,” two guys with few prospects and an armoire stuffed with cash.

Odile (Karina) who lives with her guardian Madame Victoria in an isolated villa in a dull Parisian suburb meets Franz (Sami Frey) at her English class in town. Seen arriving on her bicycle for a lesson, she has an unlikely hairdo (twin buns tied with ribbons over her ears), and dresses like a younger school girl (a plaid, pleated skirt, knee socks and a pea coat)–and has that certain je ne sais quoi in spades.

As alluring as Odile is to Franz, it’s her casual comment, which he repeats to his chum Arthur (Claude Brasseur) about Mr. Stoltz (Madame Victoria’s tenant), having a hidden fortune, that draws the three together. A seemingly simple robbery plan is hatched, which Odile struggles to thwart. But crazy for Arthur (“I love you,” she reveals, soon after they meet. “Already?” his response. “Lightning struck.”) she’s unable to resist. Awry hardly suffices to describe how the noir/madcap crime unfolds.

The film (which Pauline Kael called, “a reverie of a gangster movie”) is rightfully famous for its set pieces (the trio’s irresistible and slightly nutty line dance “Le Madison,” and a fast forward viewing of the Louvre’s collection). But “Band of Outsiders,” also has endless ideas–visual, in the dialog (and lack of,  a 35-second “minute of silence”), with Michel Legrand’s romantic score (often contradicting the action) and with a rare voiceover (spoken by Godard) to be wholly successful (and self-referential, using asides to comment on the nature of filmmaking).

“Band of Outsiders,” in a glowing new restoration, will open on Friday, May 6 at Film Forum for a one-week run. Anna Karina will appear in person for a discussion and audience Q&A following the 7:30 pm show.

“Anna & Jean-Luc,” a series featuring their six other collaborations (including “Pierre Le Fou,” “Alphaville,” and “Vivre Sa Vie”) will also open on May 6, with one film playing each day through Thursday, May 12.

I’m always excited to do a shoot but I’ve rarely been as amazed (“well, how did I get here?”–once in a lifetime, indeed) as I was when I photographed Anna Karina. (Thanks yet again, Bruce.)

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