Le petit soldat (1963)

Banned for a short while in France, Godard’s second feature boldly and stylistically depicts the moral complexities of the Algerian war, throwing audiences at the time an early political curveball.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,102

Dir. Jean-Luc Godard
1963 | France | Drama | 88 mins | 1.33:1 | French
Not rated – likely NC16 for some disturbing scenes

Cast: Anna Karina, Michel Subor
Plot: During the Algerian war for independence from France, a young Frenchman living in Geneva joins a far-right terrorist group from which he later tries to flee, after falling in love for a young woman who belongs to a left-wing terrorist group. 
Awards: –
Source: Pretty Pictures

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Politics

Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

Although made right after Breathless (1960), Le petit soldat (or ‘The Little Soldier’) was only released in 1963, after A Woman Is a Woman (1961) and Vivre sa vie (1962). 

Banned in France for a short while, Godard’s cinematic inquiry into the Algerian war threw audiences at the time an early political curveball. 

Working with Anna Karina for the first time, Godard only gives us a full glimpse of her character, Veronica, when the protagonist Bruno (played by Michel Subor) sizes her up after a car ride. 

Falling in love, and only later realising that their political allegiances are different, both Bruno and Veronica endure through an anti-romantic Godardian construct. 

“The Right wins and then applies Leftist policies and vice versa. I win or lose, but I fight alone.”

Cue breaking the fourth wall, jump cuts, monologues, recurring piano refrains, stasis in hotel rooms, debilitating existential crises.  But also cue torture scenes, assassination attempts (which are quite amusing to be honest) and overt political symbols.  

On hindsight, one might find Le petit soldat to be Godard’s earliest marker of how his filmmaking would turn more political by the end of the decade as his Marxist sensibilities became more acute. 

The film also features one of the most quoted lines in Godard’s cinema: “Photography is truth, and cinema is truth 24 times per second.”  Perhaps this best represents Godard as a filmmaker and also his approach to Le petit soldat, where fragmentation, multiple truths and moral complexities lie in each frame. 

While not always engaging, the film remains a bold and stylistic offering from a prolific director having thought-provoking fun with the medium. 

Grade: B+



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