Le Petit Soldat (1963) – One of Godard’s most accessible films

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“Photography is truth. Cinema is truth 24 times per second”
– Jean-Luc Godard

Le Petit Soldat is French director Jean Luc-Godard’s follow-up to his path-breaking debut Breathless. The film was banned in France initially and was only released three years later. The film’s release became an issue because the French-Algeria war was still going on. It condemned the use of torture by both sides and this, along with the inflammatory anti-French remarks were too much for the French to take and naturally, this led to it’s ban. Only when the war ended did they find it appropriate to release the film. Of all the Godard films I’ve seen, I found this to be his most accessible film and appreciated it even more than Breathless.

The film follows a French army deserter named Bruno Forestier who is living in Geneva. He is soon captured by French Intelligence and is ordered to work for them to prove his
loyalty. His mission is to assassinate a pro-left wing journalist who supports the cause of the FLN. In the meantime, he falls in love with a girl named Veronica Dreyer, whom he
presumes to be a model. Bruno is soon captured by the Algerians and is subjected to intense torture sessions. He manages to escape and persuades the French to give him one more chance to kill the journalist, in exchange for Brazilian passports for him and Veronica.

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Despite the fact this is a Godard film, it looks as if it was made by someone else. Like I said before, this is Godard at his most conventional. But that’s not to say that this doesn’t
contain any of his usual trademarks. The jump cuts in Breathless are gone but the raw and gritty documentary style that were prominent in it are all here. The film has more in common with the films of his contemporaries such as Jean-Pierre Melville and Robert Bresson. The natural and fluid camera work doesn’t call attention to itself and fits the narrative perfectly. When it comes to the actors, Godard has relied on his trademark improvisation techniques and they have come up with some truly compelling dialogues. Michel Subor is simply terrific as Bruno. And Anna Karina’s presence lends a nice, soft balance to the narrative.

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Much has been said about the famous torture scene but the audiences today won’t find it as horrible as anything as they see in movies today. It’s comparatively tame. What’s striking about this scene is that no emotions are displayed by the actors present in this particular scene. A cold and detached attitude is adopted by the characters and this is immediately reminiscent of the films of Bresson. It seems that more than the torture scene, the critics had a major issue with the political stance adopted in the film. The protagonist’s ideology is left ambiguous. It’s apparent that he doesn’t believe in either Left-wing or Right-wing politics but agrees to take part in the mission just so that he can have some cause. Also, it says that France has lost it’s political ideology and this did not sit well with the authorities at the time.

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