doctor_smith | Rowland Heights, CA United States | 10/09/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's somewhat of a pity that "Le Petit Soldat" is typically not seen as one of Godard's best films, just as it is a pity that both critical and popular reception have largely been lukewarm ever since its release. The French government in 1960 certainly didn't like it. They censured Godard because of the film's political ambivalence about the Algerian war for independence, as well as its depiction of torture, a technique that was accepted and used by both the Algerians and the French. As a result, "Le Petit Soldat" was not released until 1963. By that time, the war had been over and the political furor over the film had died down.Viewers have been far more kind to the film, but not always by much. Perhaps it is the way in which Godard combines film genres only to exploit and discard them. Is it a war film, a pulp crime saga, an incomplete drama, or all three? (Or none of the above?) Perhaps it is the fact that the film's protagonist, Bruno Forestier (played by Michel Subor) is completely confused and uncomitted in his political views. That, of course, was Godard's whole point about his character and the issues of the day, but many viewers wanted a protagonist who actually had a specific world view. Or, perhaps it is the film's overall lack of narrative coherence and the way in which the film's ending is oddly abrupt. Reactions such as these are valid, to be sure, mainly because they are the very type reactions most of Godard's films inspire. He took the familiar, time-worn conventions of the cinema and turned them upside down.Stylistically, "Le Petit Soldat" picks up where "Breathless," Godard's first film, left off. The photography is stunningly beautiful (kudos to Godard's cinematographer, Raoul Coutard). The jump cuts are present, although they aren't as extreme as they are in "Breathless." There are also wonderful Godard trademarks: location shooting, as opposed to set pieces (Geneva is the background this time), a cinematic love affair with the automobile (all everyone seems to do in this film is drive), and numerous literary and cultural references.In terms of its cinematic style, "Le Petit Soldat" is a triumph. It is also notable, on this account, because it is Anna Karina's first appearance in a Godard film. He hired her for her looks and then married her. Like his later films with her, though not to the same extent, "Soldat" is a study of Karina. She is beautifully lit, and the camera lingers on her in several key scenes. Fortunately for Godard, Karina also turned out to be a wonderful actress."Le Petit Soldat" simply follows Bruno as he is forced to assassinate a political enemy while, in the process, he meets and falls in love with Veronica (Karin's character). Aside from that, there isn't much plot; it is at the service of dialogue and images. Bruno's capture and torture are not easy to watch, even though there is no blood or grim violence; but that should not deter one from viewing or admiring this film. Godard, better than anyone, knew how to elevate the B-movie to art, and he does it with "Le Petit Soldat." Sure, the story doesn't cohere, but that's the entire point. And whether it does or not is, in a sense, beside the point; this film is worth seeing simply for its photography, for seeing Geneva in the early 60s, and for a fine example of Godard's early New Wave style. Cinephiles should own it.Finally, a few words about the DVD: in wholly uncharacteristic fashion, Fox Lorber's print of this film is actually quite good. That's because the BBC remastered an acrhival print for the DVD release. Generally, the transfer is commendable. Some night scenes are unclear, but that could be due to Godard's own intent or to the small budget he was working with. The audio track is decent as well.One can't expect many DVD extras for Fox Lorber, but there is a fairly informative 15 minute commentary from scholar David Skerritt, who provides some background information and a general analysis of the film."
Dark and Moody
C. C Chrappa | us | 08/22/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With any work by a peculiar personality who to a large extent dramtizes that peculiarity within it, the result is usually divisive. Le Petit Soldat happens to be a pretty peculiar film, even judged by the standards of "typical" Godard, who is not a little peculiar. I am chiming in because not only do I admire the film artistically, as other reviewers have, but more importantly the film "did it for me," which is to say, it is actually the only Godard film besides My Life to Live that has really, genuinely stirred my emotional soup. I want first to say that the film is not as abstract as some of the previous reviews would lead one to believe. In fact, the plot is simple. What makes the movie "abstract" is the secondary role given to the simple plot, in favor of the typical Godard ramblings on complex ideas. Fortunately, in Le Petit Soldat, all of these ramblings are very interesting and often beatufiul, as when the main character is being tortured, and muses that he must "Think faster than the pain." I actually found other Godard films, allegedly more "accessible," to be far more abstract and impenetrable than this one, namely Contempt and Pierrot le Fou, and especially the latter (As for the former, I guess it is a peculiarity of my own personality that I LOATHE Contempt, evidently not a popular response to that film). Second, I find this to be Godard's most concise, unified film. It's tight, and the music is pitch perfect, a sort of chilling piano riff, played off of dark streets dimly lit by lamps and carlights. It sounds trite, but as any Godardian is aware, Godard is working with trite material. His interest is to make it not trite. He usually does this by giving the trite situations a "philosophy," or at least a set of ideas, such that a torture scene, instead of portraying the typical blood and brutality, portrays the interior states of those involved. It is entirely emblematic of Godard's peculiarity that he would have a character attempt to conquer brute pain with thought. Even at their most thoughtless, his characters are, like Karina in My Life to Live, "unwitting philosophers." At any rate, this movie blends all of the usual, for Godard, into a quick 80-some-odd-minute existential screed, that feels at the end like you've flown over something, rather than plunged into the sh**, so to speak. I like that feeling, like soaring with a cool wind blowing in your face, both haunting and comforting. Other people find it alienating and prefer the sh** plunging of films like Contempt and Pierrot le Fou. Finally, this film has almost no sense of humor---but it does have one (viz. the scene where one of the guys going to kill Anna Karina slips and falls in his haste)---and it is less playful than other Godard movies. It doesn't have that self-mocking self-awareness--well, not so blatantly at least--that almost all of his other works have, and here it is entirely appropriate. This is a film that explores the tangle between commitment and un-freedom, and the main character, who does not commit anything but love and a murder, at last feels his freedom preserved, through his, I guess, "ideological neutrality." But in the end, these are analyses, and the movie stands or falls as a whole. The simple fact is that I found it immensely powerful as whole; and others did not. I wrote this only to make clear that it is possible that you will find it powerful on a visceral level. It is definitely worth a shot."
Algernon Wentworth | Derby, CT. United States | 08/12/2005
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Another beautiful pan and scan hack job by Fox Lorber studios. I wish these folks would go out of business."
Barely Effective Noir
doctor_smith | 08/01/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Jean-Luc Godard should be applauded for trying to pull off films such as 'Le Petit Soldat', for in such films he really goes his own way in using film as an artistic medium. His storytelling here is very French 'Noir', with some 'chilling' night street shots and tenuous close-ups of complex visages. Also Michel Subor does a fine job in speaking very specifically about his impressionistic/esoteric thoughts on life, death, and love. All of these aspects are to be appreciated in a French film, for very few filmmakers outside of France have a good handle on the existentialist/'stark' artistic aspects of filmmaking. What bogs this particular classic down is the first half hour or so with shot after shot of people getting into and out of cars and pulling up/whizzing off down the road. No amount of imagination can give this protracted pattern artistic value. It's just plain boring- and I have a pretty tolerant attention span. But what does all this do to move the story forward? Rien. The other problems with this film are the plot and realism. Firstly the plot- what could have been a gripping story weaved around this striking subject matter of allegiances and covert activity (torture, double agenting, etc.) during the French-Algerian War, is very watered down here and too simplistic. It rarely gets out of Marseillaise (or wherever 'Le Petit Soldat' purports to take place), and we see very little, if nothing of the Arabs, Algeria, or places or characters outside of a small, insular spy-vs-spy world. That would be OK if the story was carried along realistically, but it is not, which brings me to point number 2. The torture scenes are just not realistic in the sense of being convincing. If this is torture, then the torturers must have taken their lessons from a day care center, because they do very little to the main character to convince us he is actually in a great deal of pain. He comes out of his torture "with a little burn" on his wrist, and does not seem to be psychologically effected at all. For comparison, read Frederick Forysth's "The Day of the Jackal" for what was really going on with these interrogations. I am not saying we need to see brutal torture to make this film work, just better acting in the aftermath perhaps. Overall, the film is watchabale, but barely. What halfway redeems it is some of Subor's expostulations on love, death, beauty, and the oblique.This film is shot in black and white and is spoken in French with English subtiltes. The DVD is of good pictorial quality and comes with a few nice extras- which help."
Randy Keehn | Williston, ND United States | 04/19/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I kept waiting for this film to take off but, being that it's only 84 minutes long, I eventually realized that it wasn't going to happen. There are scenes in the movie that do delve into some cerebral concepts that are, at times, interesting. Unfortunately, they are offset by other scenes and situations that seem to demean what they appear to profile. For example, there is a scene involving torture. I was not looking to see any disturbing shots of excessive brutality. However, after a series of supposedly serious tortures, our "hero" escapes and goes on, physically and mentally, as if nothing had happened. There is also an overnight relationship that supposedly turns into love. If that relationship is "love" then something must have gotten lost in the translation. What we're left with is a lot of existential soul-searching with a minor dose of politics mixed in. In fact, given the apparent plot of the film, the amount of politics we encounter is absurdly minor. The director may have erred in thinking the whole world knew the intricacies of the Algerian revolt.To those who are devotees of the Existential Philosophy, this movie is probably a minor masterpiece. I must confess that a negative characterization of Albert Camus in the movie left me thinking it was either an inside joke or an inside squabble. After all of the endless driving, the constant smoking and the often pointless dialogue, I am less apt to watch another movie by Goodard"