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Godard might very well have set out to make an anti-war movie with Truffaut's comment that a truly anti-war film was impossible in mind, but even judged solely as an anti-war statement this film's a failure. Why? Well for one thing, Truffaut may have been a genius, but on this score he was certainly wrong. There definitely is a danger of aestheticizing anything you put on film, especially if you do it well (think of just how beautiful Sam Peckinpah can make a massacre), but aestheticizing war doesn't mean you can't successfully make an anti-war film. Think of "The Bridge on the River Kwai," "The Grand Illusion," or the more recent "Downfall." All are fairly conventional war films and none of them exactly make one want to go out and enlist. "The Grand Illusion," and to a lesser extent "Bridge on the River Kwai," paint a romantic picture of war only to undercut it later. You can't help coming away from those films with the message that, while there might be some nobility in war and the ideals that allow men to fight, both war and the ideals that motivate it are a form of madness. "Downfall" is a completely conventional war film, but it never makes war look like anything other than dirty, terrifying and completely insane. And to me this seems exactly the way one should make an anti-war film. Engage in dialogue with those who might find some nobility in war, admit their point, and try to show what's wrong with it while admitting its appeal; or show just how ugly, brutal, dehumanizing, and insane war is with as much realism as you possibly can. "Les Carbiniers" does neither. It's a smug statement aimed at those who already think that all war is wrong and anyone who fights in one degenerate and evil. People in that camp will no doubt find much to agree with, though little to entertain them, but anyone not so convinced will probably just be bored and angry. And who is it one's trying to reach with an anti-war movie anyway? In the end Godard succeeds too well at making an ugly film. Everyone here is either thoroughly nasty, helpless, or silly. It's kind of like Evelyn Waught at his nastiest, only not nearly as funny. In the scene where the captured partisans are shot Godard seems to me to mock the very idea of human dignity. But what is it that makes war so bad? Isn't it that people get killed? If people are as worthless as this film makes out, who really cares if they get killed? Even Waugh didn't' go quite so far; one always found a few noble fools here and there. The movie isn't a total wash. It might not be Waugh, but it is nastily funny here and there, and Godard was a pretty good craftsman when it came to film. Unfortunately, when you get down to it, this might be Godard's most characteristic film. Godard and Truffaut are often linked, but really ther films aren't alike. With Truffaut one always finds sympathy for his characters and there's just a certain warmth and light touch that permeate almost everything he did. One certainly doesn't find that in Godard. Yes there's craft and cleverness here, but also coldness, cynicism, and a failure to understand, or possibly care about, basic human emotion. To me that's what's characteristic of Godard; it's on display even in Godard's "more accessible" (I'd say "better") films like "Band of Outsiders," but nowhere is it clearer than in "Les Carabiniers," which might make it the best Godard film to start with if you really want to get an idea of the man and his work. Truffaut was a humanist in the true sense of the term, whereas Godard, like too many French intellectuals, subscibes to Ivan Karamazov's line: He loves humanity (in the abstract of course) and hates human beings.
Carabiniers, Les (1963)
* (out of 4)
Um, okay. Jean-Luc Godard film about two farmers who are picked by the King to join the war. The two aren't that interested at first but soon become very interested when they're promised that they can rape, murder, steal from and torture anyone they please since "that's what war is all about". I've seen plenty of anti-war film but there's no doubt this is the worst of the bunch. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this film is directed well since there's no way in hell, not even Ed Wood, could have made a film like this without it being on purpose. I wasn't shocked to learn that this film was bashed and bombed when it was first released in France only to gain popularity four years later in America. With all the anti-Vietnam stuff going on there's no wonder they ate this film up. The whole message was just downright stupid and if it was meant as satire then it didn't come off too well. The only nice scene is one where one of the soldiers goes to the movies for the first time. I wouldn't even call this thing technically well made like the previous film I watched. Compared to Paths of Glory this sucker is on the level of an Ed Wood film.
If someone were to make a parody of the stereotypical French New Wave
of the 1960's, Les Carabiniers would be it. I've read Godard has this
supposedly great sense of irony, but I think he was dead serious with
piece of garbage.
The film was on TCM last night, so I figured, hey it's Godard, I'll broaden my cinematic resume. I shouldn't have bothered. The badly overdubbed soundtrack, the cliched narration, the dumb poetry reading, the ham-fisted anti-war polemics, it was all there. The scene where the younger soldier sees a movie for the first time is quite funny, but the rest of the movie is interminable. The scene where the two soldiers return home with thousands of postcards for their wives (girlfriends, sisters?) seemed to take an hour. Godard's point is as follows: young people are duped into fighting wars by the government telling them they can steal and plunder the world, but in the end you wind up with nothing. Deep, real deep Jean.
My rating, 3/10. For the cinefiles out there, see Godard's "Breathless" and then check Godard off your list and move on to someone else.
That this movie got a 6.8 on the IMDB rating scale astounds me. That its audiences were expected to pay to see it and that it was thought worthy of being re-issued on dvd astounds me. Whatever points it was trying to make got lost in the what I found to be the ugliness of the film-making. Jean-Luc Godard, je vous accuse.
I had thought Tomb Raider was the worst movie I'd see all year until
this. The descriptions in the other comments are probably sufficient to
describe whatever exists of the "plot." All of the scenes are
absurd, although without the kind of effect this technique has in, say,
Many of the scenes are painfully long without meaning, and feel like filler, which is surprising given that the movie is allegedly short. The worst instance of this comes towards the end, with the 20 minute sequence of laying down postcards one at a time in front of the camera, with a voice-over saying "Boat, airplane, bicycle...." The humor of the situation, and the attempt to poke fun at capitalism, is effective for the first minute or so, and very obvious, but the rest is just unwatchable.
Next, the acting is awful. The main characters are consistent, if boringly one-sided, but many of the characters they interact with performed so poorly it distracts from the film. In one scene where some prisoners are being shot, there is a two to three second lapse between when the gun goes off, and when the girl being shot (about 15 feet away from the gun) jumps/jolts as if she'd just been shot, and then slumps. It's hard to believe that this sort of stuff was intentional, as Godard was clearly trying to make a political statement, not an Ace Ventura slapstick comedy, although in instances it unwittingly gets closer to the latter.
The editing is what really got me though. The pathetic use of stock footage makes Ed Wood look impressive. The attempts to merge the pictures of a small handful of people running, supposedly in battle, with stock footage shots of tanks and planes, felt like a Saturday Night Live skit spoofing the stock footage. And the overuse of stock footage reminded me of the infamous B-movie "Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster" with endless collages of stock footage, interspersed with shots of 3 or 4 people and a cardboard-looking tank. The worst example, and completely unexcusable, is a scene where the star pulls the hat off of a girl who has ambushed him, and then the film cuts to a close-up of the girl's head -- and the hat's back on her! It's like Godard wasn't even trying to make a decent film.
In the end, I don't think the film got beyond an unsophisticated grunt "War is stupid, capitalism is stupid." Whatever cheerleading pop-culture value the film may have had during it's time, today it's an utter waste of a movie, with an inexcusable plot, wooden and boring characters, awful acting, and editing that would get an F in a basic film 101 class.
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