Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Albert Juross, Marino Mase, Catherine Ribeiro, Geneviève Galéa
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Gruault, Roberto Rossellini, based on a play by Beniamino Joppolo
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 80
Date: 03/18/2013
IMDB

Les Carabiniers (1963)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jean-Luc Godard remains the most elusive and fiercely independent of the French New Wave directors. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn't had a single film distributed in the U.S. since 1985's Hail Mary, and that only because he raised the ire of the Catholic Church. (His newest film, In Praise of Love, should hopefully open here sometime this year.) From the very beginning he strove to stay true only to himself, even if that meant making films that others found unwatchable. His first feature film Breathless (1959, Winstar/Fox Lorber, $24.98) was not one of those films. It recharged the batteries of a nation of filmgoers by taking a pulpy crime story and turning it into something new, artistic and astonishingly personal.

Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg star as the criminals on the run; Belmondo doing his best Humphrey Bogart on the run after killing a cop; and Seberg playing the American sidekick who hocks the New York Herald Tribune on the streets of Paris. What more can I say? If you haven't seen Breathless, see it, then see it again. The folks at Fox Lorber have released "Breathless" on a sparkling new DVD, made from the new print that circulated theaters last year. It also includes an abbreviated, but interesting commentary track by Christian Science Monitor film critic David Sterritt.

Fox Lorber has also released two other, far more obscure and difficult Godard titles, both war-related. Le Petit Soldat (1960, Winstar/Fox Lorber, $24.98) follows Michel Subor as a young man dispatched to perform various assassinations during the Algerian war. The film was banned for depicting scenes of the French army torturing our hero, scenes that must have struck a pretty raw nerve at the time. But it's also notable for casting Anna Karina, the actress who would become Godard's muse and wife, and would appear in many more of his films. When the camera draws close to her face, the screen radiates passion. The film is overall quite confused, but also truthful, as that's just how Godard was feeling at the time.

Les Carabiniers (1963, Winstar/Fox Lorber, $24.98) plays a little more straightforward, a little like a parody. Two peasants are drafted into the king's army to fight in some unnamed war. They're sold on the idea because they believe they will be allowed to steal anything not nailed down, as well as plenty that is nailed down. Unlike any other film, Les Carabiniers sucks all the glamour and excitement out of war and makes it seem drab and slovenly.

Though these two thorny films did not strike me the first time I saw them, I've found through experience that any Godard film -- even Breathless -- benefits from multiple viewings. I hope to revisit them someday and better appreciate them.