Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Le Petit Soldat is technically Godard’s third film. Although he filmed it after he filmed Breathless and before A Woman is a Woman, the film was banned for three years before it received a release. The reason behind this ban was the same behind the Battle of Algiers, it shows France in a bad light in connection with the Algerian Liberation.
Before I review this film extensively, I want to let you know that I am no expert on the locations, the history of the conflict or anything connected to it. I did study Algeria for a short period of time during my coursework, but I do not retain much information on the subject. If someone is interested in knowing more about the Algerian Liberation, I would suggest watching the film the Battle of Algiers directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. I also would suggest after watching the film to check out the Criterion Cast’s latest episode on the Battle of Algiers. They have some really interesting things to say about the film.
Le Petit Soldat follows this young man who is a secret hit man for the French government in Switzerland. His cover is being a photographer and an acquaintance of his offers to introduce him to a beautiful young woman to photograph. This is where Anna Karina is introduced to the world. This is her first film role with Godard and she is very lovely in this film. She plays innocence very well. She turns out to be an informant for the Algerian Liberation. He meets her and falls in love with her. He then rethinks his career choice and tries to resist having to perform another hit. He gets threatened while she inadvertently exposes him.
What follows is a torture scene. Although the torture is shown very matter-of-factly and not glamorized in any way, it can be hard to watch. I respect Godard for showing the torture scenes like he did. Throughout the film, the hit man, Bruno, narrates his inner thoughts. He says once we get to the torture that it is a very tedious and monotonous thing and therefore boring to watch. Of course I found it to be the exact opposite. They strip Bruno down, put him into a bathroom that can easily be shut if someone unexpected comes, and start with fire. They just take a few matches, light them and put them under his bound hands. Simple enough tactic, but if you think about it, that could become very painful quickly. They then spray him with water, then they submerge his head in water, then they put a shirt over his head and spray him with water making so he can’t breathe. This is of course one of the torture processes that resonates with me. This is because of the American tactic of waterboarding is very similar and yet it is not called “torture.” I have seen this depiction and several others and it most definitely is.
After the torturer realizes that the water is not helping, he is given shock treatments. These do not work either. Throughout these scenes, Bruno describes what is going on with his thoughts. At one point he decides he is going to try to break out and he does in a most poetic way. He runs to Veronica (Anna Karina) and she helps him get out of his bounds.
He realizes that he must get out and he must get Veronica out of the situation. He goes back to the French and promises to do a hit in order to get passports to Brazil. However the French decide not to trust him and take Veronica to torture her. The film then comes to its horrible conclusion.
Although one can see Godard as a filmmaker through the disjointed narrative, the jump cuts, and the dialogue, this feels like something completely different from Breathless and A Woman is a Woman. First off it is an overtly political film that presents both sides of the conflict in bad lights. Bruno has no real need to be a hit man for the French, politically. He does think that Arabs can be good people. He is sort of just apathetic to his situation. This sort of shifts when he falls for Veronica. Veronica does seem to have a motive to want to inform for Algerian rebels, but she keeps it secret for most of the film. She does come across as pretty surface given the fact that every time you see her, she is combing her hair, looking in a mirror, or getting dressed. The only people who really seem to be dogmatic in the film are the people who are seen torturing Bruno and are hinted at torturing Veronica. This film hints at the more politicized Godard to come.