Petit Soldat, Le (1963)

Petit Soldat, Le (1963)

“Accused of being a traitor, my only way out was to hit on the enemy.”

During the Algerian War, a French special agent (Michel Subor) is sent to Geneva to assassinate a member of the National Liberation Front of Algeria, but gets distracted by his love for a beautiful woman (Anna Karina) with dubious political affiliations.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Assassination
  • French Films
  • Jean-Luc Godard Films
  • Spies

Jean-Luc Godard made his second film — about the incredibly sticky topic of France’s involvement in Algeria — in response to critics who claimed his debut film (Breathless) was too apolitical. Ironically, Godard himself didn’t actually have strong views on the topic; he simply wanted to explore such ideas through cinema. It’s most notable for didactic scenes of torture, which resulted in the film being banned in France until 1963 despite being made in 1960:

Film fanatics may be most interested to see the scene in which Subor voices one of Godard’s most famous quotes:

“Photography shows the truth. Cinema shows the truth at a rate of 24 times a second.”

Indeed, the film is (not surprisingly) quite talky and philosophical, with characters often simply walking across or in front of one another while saying things like:

“When you take a picture of a face, you take a picture of the soul behind it.”
“In the ’30s, young people had a revolution: Malraux, Drieu la Rochelle, Aragon. We have nothing. They had the Spanish Civil War; we don’t even have our own war. Aside from ourselves, our faces and voices, we have nothing.”
“PeopIe look at me, but they don’t know what I’m thinking. They’ll never know!”

These quotes exemplify Godard’s obsession with meaning-making vis-a-vis a camera lens. Fans of his work will of course want to check this one out, but it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Note: The film’s title seems to stem from a scene in which Subot has Karina complete a “test”:

“You know this is a test? It’s a drawing to discover a person’s character. I often use this on women. They love to be called little girls and to play like children.”

Along with additional lines like the following:

“Women should never get older than 25. Men become more handsome as they grow older, but women don’t age well.”

… we have yet more ample evidence of Godard’s objectifying views towards women.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Raoul Coutard’s cinematography

Must See?
No. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Petit Soldat, Le (1963)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see. Only for Godard fans… I guess.

    It’s rather bizarre to think that Godard would make this film in response to critics who claimed ‘Breathless’ was “too apolitical”. Why should he care? Would those same critics make the same charge to, say… Jacques Demy? Oh, well, it was the ’60s.. and, politically, things in France were turbulent.

    But this film just ends up being more of Godard being typical Godard… only this one has scenes of simulated torture (ugh).

    Subor’s character’s tendency toward verbal diarrhea (including the various dumb things he says about women) gets to be tiresome.

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