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During the Algerian war for independence from France, a young Frenchman living in Geneva who belongs to a right-wing terrorist group and a young woman who belongs to a left-wing terrorist group meet and fall in love. Complications ensue when the man is suspected by the members of his terrorist group of being a double agent. Written by
As a fan of Claire Denis' Beau Travail in which there are extensive references to Le Petit Soldat, I've been keen to see this film for a while. My expectations were high and after viewing it two days ago I feel like I haven't been let down. I still can't believe that it's made over 40 years ago - it's that fresh, that immediate in its emotional poignancy.
What grand topics Godard is trying to address: do we have ideals? are they more significant than our personal pride? knowing we're powerless, should we just go with the flow? Godard's answers are vague and uncertain, but the manner in which he answers them is vital. His hero knows that he can't win, he doesn't even know which camp he's supposed to be in, but he resists. While he sees his world as quite meaningless, he allows himself to be seduced by beauty and dignity: classical music, Velasquez' grey eyes, photography, Britanny's light, "did I cry?"... In a world where no one can be trusted, he chooses to be his own ally. He finds his comrade in a woman of a different camp - you can read it as either his disillusion with ideology or his faith in love.
The connection between Le Petit Soldat and Beau Travail is so strong that Beau Travail feels like an offspring of Le Petit Soldat. It goes beyond the more obvious references (I have a lot of time ahead of me; maybe freedom begins with remorse; the time for action is over). Both are so true to their point of view that they border on solipsism; both adore the beauty of flesh to the point of fetish (Subor has the most expressive biceps I've ever seen in my life; Gregoire Colin, whose presence bears a striking resemblance to the young Subor, is known as "Gregoire the Magnificent"); and both Godard and Denis are masters at capturing a spontaneity in which no thought can be hidden from the camera. While Godard despairs over a world that is losing its ideals, Denis rediscovers meanings in a world that's supposedly meaningless to begin with. For this reason, I'd recommend watching the two films together at least once.
The beauty and the expressiveness of the film assured that its soul effects can't be achieved in any other media form. The cinematography is invigorating, gritty, and elegant. It's a film that's at the same time dry and lush - dry because of its understated, calm tone(the torture scene!) and lush because of its rich undercurrents. A crispy, translucent film. Its marvels are designed to fade the moment they bloom (Subor and Karina's Spanish salute to each other).
Acting is superb. Subor is a mixture of physical reserve and mental sensitivity. His presence is so edgy and powerful that from time to time you forget he's really as good-looking as any dark and handsome man. Anna Karina's performance is ethereal - her beauty must have inspired Godard to say "woman should not age over 25." Both are elusive and candid, which adds to the dreamlike quality of the film.
If you believe in personal and honest filmmaking, this one is for you. I've seen a number of Godard's movies, but none had drawn me closer to Godard the filmmaker than Le Petit Soldat. In other films he's observant, and in this one he's self-aware. The story is heady, but he narrates in a calm tone, like he's in a negotiation with you. Because of that, you hear every word he says.
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