Jean-Luc Godardís war on cinematic seamlessness begins with a handwritten title card, background noises on the set are heard: "Let it roll. Military march, take one." The shrubby, overcast French countryside stands for the abstract kingdom, a pair of lumpy yokels (Marino Masť, Albert Juross) are given machine-guns and sent to the front with promises of treasures. Forget your suffering, go cause someone elseís! "Can we steal slot-machines? Pillage, rape, massacre?" "Oui, cíest la guerre." Offhand vaudeville is the method, blackout skits alternate with ragged newsreels of battleships, bombardiers and contorted corpses, the rattle of gunfire is punctuation. One of the rustic mercenaries tries to buy a Maserati with the Kingís recruitment note, the other takes time off from molesting a female prisoner with his rifle to notice a Rembrandt on the wall, "un soldat salut un artiste." The battleground is a procession of pastoral vistas pockmarked by taciturn thuggery, back home their preening wives (GeneviŤve Galťa, Catherine Ribeiro) devour glossy magazines. "There is no victory, only flags and fallen men." Keatonís awestruck projectionist reaching for a bathing beauty and Eisensteinís fraternal cry before the shooting squad, above all Rosselliniís contemplative long-shot (Paisŗ), furiously sketched gags in Godardís astringent flipbook. The catalog of plunder brought home by the soldiers fills the screen in the great, extended punchline, postcard after postcard taken out of a suitcase and slapped down before stupefied spouses: the Pyramids and Niagara Falls, Versailles and Rin Tin Tin, Ava Gardner and Lola Montes, commodified images one and all. (The Parthenon is turned down by Ribeiro, "itís a ruin.") Lester takes up the baton and runs in How I Won the War, and there are consequences for Bergman (Shame), Jancsů (The Red and the White), and Malick (Badlands). Cinematography by Raoul Coutard. With Jean-Louis Comolli, Odile Geoffroy, and Barbet Schroeder. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce