Le Petit Soldat ★★★½

It took a couple of rewinds and essentially a second viewing to fully appreciate this film, and even then it was hit and miss. I’m guessing that it must have been more powerful in the 1960’s, not because it’s message isn’t still relevant today, but because it’s counterculture method of filmmaking, the philosophical and practically stream of consciousness dialog, and depiction of alienation of youth in a world at war where neither side seems right would have resonated more.

One of the issues is that the long soliloquy from the main character (Michel Subor) towards the end meanders and doesn’t deliver a payoff. Throughout the film he wants to talk poetry, philosophy, and politics with everyone – including the captors who torture him – but often doesn’t say anything that is particularly enlightened. How much smarter is the comment of his girlfriend (Anna Karina), who much more quietly says that the French will ultimately lose the colonial war because they lack the ‘ideal’ they had in WWII; in other words, ultimately, they’re in the wrong.

The film tells a coherent story, unlike some of Godard’s later political efforts, but it has a raw and unpolished feeling about it, with bumpy shots out of cars, lots of dubbing, and aspects that aren’t all that fleshed out (such as Karina’s character). To some, that might be part of its appeal.

As this film deals with the Algerian War through the lens of violence in Europe between the range of people in support of the FLN (intellectuals, sympathizers, and terrorists) and French forces that seem to be lumping them all into that latter category, and because it has such a dramatically different style, it may make an interesting (though quite dark) double feature with ‘The Battle of Algiers’ (1966).