Starring: Michel Subor, Anna Karina, Henri-Jacques Huet
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Running Time: 88 mins
Le Petit Soldat is a French film about a man working for French intelligence who is tasked to take out a pro-FLN agent during the Algerian War to prove his allegiance. However, he soon meets a woman on the FLN side, and an unlikely romance blossoms.
Going into a Godard movie is like playing the lottery – you either get it immediately, or it’s lost on you the whole way through, and it’s unfortunately the latter for me with Le Petit Soldat. Although the film features some interesting themes within its historical setting, it’s just far too inconsistent and frustratingly laid out a film to be engaging, and Godard’s artistic ambitions really get in the way of an engaging watch.
Of course, that’s half the intention with the director’s movies, aiming to change the language of cinema by not following established traditions and practices. At times, that’s great, and it makes films like Breathless and Alphaville really enthralling, but at others, it just makes everything so much harder to follow, with the majority of the intended drama being completely overshadowed by the style.
The film does have a story, centring on an intelligence officer and his mission to take out an enemy, but that part of the plot effectively plays out over the course of no more than ten minutes in this movie. The rest of the movie focuses way more on the relationship between the man and a woman he meets from the other side, and their seemingly endless conversations about love, life, politics, war and everything in between.
Again, those sorts of deeply philosophical conversations that drag on for ages are very typical in Godard’s movies, and although I’m sure some people may find a little more intrigue in the topics raised, the fact that a good half of the whole film is effectively the two of them meandering through pretentious dialogue while sitting in a small room just isn’t particularly riveting viewing.
On the other hand, the one thing about their conversation, and the film as a whole, that did occasionally grab my attention was its allusions to the political state in France at the time, in the midst of the Algerian War.
Knowing how unconventional Godard is, it’s inevitable that he takes a strongly anti-government stance in this movie, with the characters delving into the ethics and nature of torture methods, and advocating against the use of such against enemy fighters. Whether you agree with the opinion the film takes or not, it is interesting to see how it ties in with the political climate of the time, and gives some very interesting insight into how many ordinary people in France indeed felt with regards to the situation.
So, that part of the movie is interesting, but it’s not quite enough to make for a fully enthralling watch. Yes, there’s depth and historical merit to the film, however it’s all just a little too Godard-ish for me to really be engaged by, as the plot is hurt hugely by a very loose atmosphere and slow pace, and failing to balance artistic ambition and pretention with genuine drama and intrigue, and that’s why I’m giving Le Petit Soldat a 6.8 overall.