Monday, May 17, 2010

Les Carabiniers

Les Carabiniers is Jean-Luc Godard's bizarre black humor anti-war allegory. It is the tale of two brothers, Ulysses (Marino Mase) and Michaelangelo (Albert Juross), who leave their wives Venus (Genevieve Galea) and Cleopatra (Catherine Ribeiro), when they are invited to by two carabiniers to become rifleman and travel the world fighting a war in service of their unseen "King", with the promise of being able to torture, kill, and plunder, the innocent victims.

Godard's Les Carabiniers was released on May 31, 1963, to surprisingly terrible reviews, given that at the time, Godard had been anointed a genius by the intellectual film circles and could virtually do no wrong. "In Les Carabiniers, Godard stands above the stupidity of the world; the films point of view is flattering to the intellectuals and contemptuous of everyone else."1 Since the film was essentially made for them, this is also what made the intellectual critics of the time dismal of the film surprising. In its first run, the film would attract a scant two thousand viewers. The rejection of the film by both audience and critics would deeply wound Godard and force him to consider his own failings as a director and storyteller.

The film itself is a crude and intentional assault on the viewers' senses told through self-contained scenes separated by Ulysses and Michaelangelo's postcards homes to their wives, who had pushed them to join the war effort for the riches that might be obtained. The essentially unprofessional actors give intentionally unprofessional performances, and the soundtrack, with its variety of volume levels and use of sounds of war and disconcerting church and circus music are pure acts of aggression. Les Carabiniers is also once again a collection of Jean-Luc Godard's favorite stylistic tricks and storytelling techniques. One of the most interesting of these visual tricks comes after the two recruits ask about how they will know when the war is over. They are told there will be fireworks and as only Godard would do, the screen is filled with a negative of fireworks going off. Only Godard could pull off filling a screen with black fireworks on a white screen. In this very same scene, Godard uses a Rossellinian element of making a statement in regards to the isolation of "country folk" from the "real" world.

It's in this crudeness of the film and the distance from the audience and critics where the genius of this film might lie. Despite its failings, to reach an audience and be accepted by critics, Les Carbaniniers shows Godard's bravery to depict an honest portrayal of war. The film lacks the heroicism, beauty, and happy endings of a typical Hollywood war film that public traditionally devours. It is a film full of cowards doing disgusting things and people couldn't help but find this revolting.

Though Godard's least popular film of his 1960's oeuvre, Les Carabiniers is worth taking the time to watch and seriously consider in juxtaposition to traditional Hollywood war films.

1. Richard Brody, Everything Is Cinema, 2008 pg. 152

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