Le Petit Soldat (Jean-Luc Godard / France, 1963):

Love during the Algerian War, the National Liberation Front fox and the "anti-terrorist" terrorist, the joke is that it's a bit like Ninotchka or Jet Pilot. (Switzerland is the gray playpen, fittingly.) The young Frenchman (Michel Subor) is an army deserter, a shutterbug, a reluctant rightist assassin, a closet poet hoping for a death out of Cocteau. The comely anti-colonialist (Anna Karina) is Russian by birth yet shares her last name with the director of Day of Wrath, and knows that the ideals the French once had against the Germans are no more in Algeria, the warís already lost. The camera passes over photographs of atrocities and glossy magazine covers pinned on a wall before finding the two lovers embracing in bed, "the secret war mixed people and ideas at a deadly pace." Suppressed for years by Gallic censorship, Jean-Luc Godardís follow-up to Breathless is a dry-ice parody of a spy thriller, an acute snapshot of the politics of struggle and the politics of relationships, and a captivating documentary account of a filmmaker falling in love with the actress combing her hair before his lenses. Handcuffed to a bathtub by the Arabs, the would-be secret agent endures homemade waterboarding and electrocution: "Between torture sessions, we had great political discussions." (The entire sequence, complete with secretary coolly typing in the corner and window-crashing escape, is a transposition of Foreign Correspondent adjusted to a new decade. Hitchcock returns the compliment in Topaz.) Oppressors and insurgents voice the same brutish dictum, in between thereís hope for fleeting romance and art and a steady flow of Godardian epigrams ("Photography is truth, cinema is truth at 24 frames per second ... The time for action has passed, the time for reflection has come ... Asking questions is more important than getting answers"). The bleak last view from an ascending escalator anticipates Alphaville. "Iím just glad to still have so much time left," goes Suborís voiceover from somewhere in the future -- the barracks of Beau Travail, perhaps? Cinematography by Raoul Coutard. With Henri-Jacques Huet, Paul Beauvais, and Laszlo Szabo. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home