I did not “like” this film. But I don’t think that Godard wanted me to. With this film I don’t think Godard is looking for pleasure. He doesn’t want the audience to revel in the kills, to sympathisize with the protagonists, or to like at all what is going on the screen. This is because Godard made an anti-war film that is so severely anti-war that is against anti-war films. I know that sounds weird, but read on, anyway.
This absurd film centers around two idiotic peasants who get drafted into going to war for their king. Two recruiters come to their broken down house, present a letter from the king (they think it was sent special to them) and promise them everything under the sun in order to get them to fight for their side. The most absurd things like chocolate factories, Masaretis and international women come out of their mouths. In order to do it, the peasants ask if they could kill innocent people (Yes!), rape women (Of Course!), ransack houses (Why not?) and other basely awful things. So off they go to this war, leaving with a list of things to bring back for their wives.
They go through this war killing people at random, taking cars that are traveling down the road, making people undress and writing these banal postcards to their companions back home. At one point, they ask a beautiful woman who tried to overtake them with her gun, why she fights. She spouts out communist propaganda and the soliders look back at her blankly. “Who is Lenin?” They are probably asking themselves. As she is being prepared to be shot, she recites a poem that is anti-war in nature. I think the thesis of this film could be heard in this poem. After she has recited her poem, they shoot her, but she is still alive. They then shoot her several times until she is no longer moving.
When the two men come back from war, they are carrying only a suitcase. When asked if they brought back anything they say triumphantly “Yes.” They then procede to open the suitcase and share with the two women postcards of famous landmarks, cars, women, dogs and other things. These things were all promised to them, but all they have are the postcards as leverage. The two recruiters come to their house and tell them that they are paying them. However their payment is only medals. They can’t be paid until the war is over and they have won. So when there are fireworks in the air, they know that the war is over. They go to town in search of the recruiters and past war activities still taking place. They take no notice of it, even when their companions are taken away from them. When they find the recruiters, the recruiters inform them that their side has lost. They are then tricked into going into a building and shot as traitors.
The look of this film is just as disturbing as the plot line. Nothing looks pretty. Everything seems to have mud flung upon it. There is no color and even the black and white sort of is nothing more than various shades of gray. Inter cut into the film is news reel footage of real images of war, dead bodies, bombs being dropped from airplanes, and buildings on fire.
Godard wants the audience to be aware the entire duration of the film that war is wrong. Not just wrong, but absurd, evil and stupid. This is evidenced everywhere. The peasants have no real motives for what they do ever in this film. They ransack houses because it is in their route. They take advantage of women, because they are horny. They kill people because they are told to. They want all these consumerist things because that is what everyone else wants, right? These individuals are not thinking men. Thinking men do not just take up arms for fake reasons.
While this is not one of my favorites of Godard’s, I still respect what he is trying to achieve. I think that he does achieve it. I guess I would rather be entertained then preached at.