Friday, June 19, 2009

Les Carabiniers

Les Carabiniers, 1963
Dir: Jean-Luc Godard
June 18, 2009
Netflix Wakefield MA

Looking at some newer reviews of Les Carabiniers (The Rifleman), it seems to have been given a more positive take with the time that has passed than it first did when it was released. While I did not hate the film, I'm pretty sure I know why people did not like it then, and it's message, while certainly worthwhile, seemed a bit...I don't know, obvious.

Godard's bleak and amateurish take on war, with a few silent film techniques, is intentional, and apparently had to be vehemently defended by Godard when the film was ripped apart by critics. War is alienating, he said, and that's what he wanted the audience to experience. I agree with this, and I like the fact that he overexposed all the film stocks to give it that grainy, almost ugly look that he felt was appropriate for the subject matter. Despite complaints from many critics, I did not find there to be any real technical errors, and it was shot with Godard's typical cinematic creativity.

The film follows two moronic brothers, ironically named Ulysses and Michaelangelo, as they go off to war for a fictitious king. They are lured to go in return for glorious loot and treasure, and have wonky adventures as torturers and mercenaries in the countryside.

They have a certain moronic charm about them, in that comedy of errors kind of way. And for unprofessional actors they do a decent job. In one scene where Michaelangelo goes to the cinema for the first time, a beautiful women undresses to take a bath and he does not understand that it's not real. He runs the length of the aisle over people trying to grab a peak of her as she leaves the screen and eventually knocks the screen down trying to get to her. The comedy is of course supposed to make you realize the outrageousness of the whole situation.

The one thing that really bugged me the most about the film was the use of text in intertitles throughout. Godard is known to use text in his films, and I'm not really a fan. Here he uses letters home from the two brothers to their girlfriends. Most of the things are just banal observations of living and soldiering through a war, and some things that might have been interesting to shoot I think, in that observational European fashion. The fact that there weren't any action scenes didn't bother me; you don't need that to show the atrocity of war. Godard's take is actually interesting, in it's way (of goofish peasants under false impressions carrying out the orders of an evil dictator), but those intertitles were just long winded and made me want to fast forward. I don't know. Maybe it was the language difference.

The film certainly works as a manifesto against war and genocide. The claims of being the "greatest anti-war film" ever made in these second takes kind of perked my eyebrows up though. The greatest anti-war film I have ever seem is Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line, and the two movies are on opposites of the cinematic spectrum. Maybe I will like the film better on my second take, but it just didn't do that much for me. It's style just did not resonate.

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