Les carabiniers (1963)


(director/writer: Jean-Luc Godard; screenwriters: Jean Gruault/Roberto Rossellini/based on the play “I Carabinieri” by Benjamino Joppolo; cinematographer: Raoul Coutard; editors: Agnes Guillemot/Lila Lakshmanan; music: Philippe Arthuys; cast: Marino Mase (Ulysses), Albert Juross (Michelangelo), Genevieve Galea (Venus), Catherine Ribero (Cleopatra); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Georges de Beauregard/Carlo Ponti; Wellspring ; 1963-France/Italy-in French with English subtitles)

“The problem is not with Godard’s politics, but with the purposeful ugliness of the film that uses Brechtian distancing methods and literary devices to tell its story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An absurd and crudely made impersonal anti-war film that cares more to make a political statement than anything else. It’s written by Jean Gruault and Roberto Rossellini, and is based on the play “I Carabinieri” by Benjamino Joppolo. Maverick French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard (“Weekend”/ “Breathless”/ “Contempt”) shoots it with grainy black and white images and makes it as a black comedy. He also uses real newsreel footage of battlefield atrocities to reinforce his view that war only brings on grief to all concerned and that all governments lie. The problem is not with Godard’s politics, but with the purposeful ugliness of the film that uses Brechtian distancing methods and literary devices to tell its story; it excludes viable dramatics, as it makes its anti-war and anti-imperialist statements. Godard is only concerned with conveying that war is not a logical option for mankind as a didactic lesson, as he believes mankind still doesn’t understand this concept and must have it drilled into them. I applaud the novelty and fervor of Godard’s stand and the fun he must have had pushing it in the face of the public, as it received a violent critical reaction in France causing its release to be withdrawn. But, in actuality, it’s a rather naive and dispassionate take on the horrors of war that no matter how absurd or true the message is it’s nevertheless both hard to dispute and totally accept.

Two moronic peasant thugs who are brothers, Michelangelo (Albert Juross) and Ulysses (Marino Mase), from an unnamed country, are drafted into the King’s army and promised that they can keep all that they can steal from the foes as booty. The equally moronic wives, Venus (Genevieve Galea) and Cleopatra (Catherine Ribero), request their hubbies bring back Max Factor lipsticks and bikinis. These peasants ironically have classical names. During a break from battle in the global war, Michelangelo goes to his first movie and tries to enter the screen when he’s turned on by a nude lady sitting in a bathtub. The duo riflemen gleefully participate in pillage, murder, and rape and return home as apparent victors with ribbons of heroism and a case full of postcard pictures of worldly treasures. They are led to believe that when the war ends, they can exchange the cards for the treasures as a reward for their war service. But in their absence there’s a proletarian revolution and they’re branded as traitors. When they return to their headquarters to sort things out, their commander, the one who recruited them and made all the promises, executes them as a peace treaty was signed by the King and he agreed to rid the country of all war criminals.