Carabiniers, Les (1963)

This is every bit how you might imagine Godard making an anti-war film would look and feel like—it’s darkly comic, blistering in its attack on warmongers and a fairly underrated work of his early phase. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,467

Dir. Jean-Luc Godard
1963 | France | Drama/War/Comedy | 80 mins | 1.37:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for violence, sexual assault and some disturbing images

Cast: Patrice Moullet, Marino Mase, Genevieve Galea
During a war in an imaginary country, unscrupulous soldiers recruit poor farmers with promises of an easy and happy life. Two of these farmers write to their wives of their exploits.

Distributor: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Anti-War; Inhumanity
Narrative Style: Straightforward/Fragmentary
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

In terms of Jean-Luc Godard’s early phase, Les carabiniers (or ‘The Riflemen’)is one of his least talked-about works, overshadowed by Le petit soldat and Contempt, both released in the same year. 

Fairly underrated, it is every bit how you might imagine Godard making an anti-war film would look and feel like—it is darkly comic, though somewhat offensive in today’s context with its gleeful casualness towards violence, sexual assault and the ‘liberty’ to trample on other people’s rights. 

But that’s the point—and very much depicts the reality of war where Man’s inhumanity to another is seen as heroic, patriotic, maybe even cathartic. 

Edited in a scattershot style, Godard’s film sees two farmers being recruited by several soldiers to fight in a war (in an imaginary country), summoned by the King through an ‘official’ notice as it were, with the promise of material wealth and the riches of the world in return. 

“There’s no victory, only flags and fallen men.”

As they wilfully kill people and damage property, they write back to their wives about their life-changing experiences. Real-life images of dead people in wars provide a sobering counterpoint to the duo’s trigger-happy exploits. 

Les carabiniers is not an easy watch content-wise, but I like how it feels so different from the director’s other works of the time, which were as carefree and playful but largely focused on the bourgeoisie without the burden of portraying the wretchedness of mankind. 

Ultimately, it’s a blistering attack on warmongers, who somehow don’t face any consequences.  There’s an extended segment involving postcards of everything from cultural landmarks to cars to animals—if the world is this beautiful, only a nihilist would destroy it.

Grade: B+


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