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Fox Lorber presents
Les Carabiniers (1963)

Michelangelo: If we want, can we massacre innocent folks?
Carabinier #2: Yes.
Michelangelo: Denounce folks too?
Carabinier #2: Yes.
Michelangelo: Eat in restaurants and not pay?

- Albert Juross, Gérard Poirot

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: December 10, 2001

Stars: Albert Juross, Marino Masé, Catherine Ribeiro, Geneviève Galéa
Other Stars: Jean Brassat, Gérard Poirot, Pascale Audret, Roger Coggio, Jean-Louis Comolli, Catherine Durante, Wladimir Faters, Odile Geoffroy, Alvaro Gheri, Jean Gruault, Jean Monsigny, Barbet Schroeder, Gilbert Servien
Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Brief nudity, some graphic war footage)
Run Time: 01h:16m:04s
Release Date: November 27, 2001
UPC: 720917526829
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

"In war, anything goes." - Carabinier #1

There are genre films, and then there are genre films by Godard. As one of the auteurs of the nouvelle vague, he spent the early 1950s in the company of other notable directors such as François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer, who together formed La Gazette du Cinema. Godard made a number of short films during the '50s, but his breakthrough was his 1960 debut feature, À bout de souffle (Breathless), his take on film noir that launched the French New Wave. His second feature (also shot in 1960) would be the first of many to create controversy, with Le Petit Soldad (The Little Soldier) banned for its slant on the Algerian War, delaying its release until 1963, the same year his tribute to legendary 1930s director Jean Vigo made its debut. Les Carabiniers (The Riflemen) is an anti-war film, Godard style. The director takes all the trappings that made Hollywood war films enjoyable, and throws them out the window. The result is a protest piece that relies on its audience to extract its message, which infuriated censors, critics and viewers alike.

The arrival of a pair of riflemen (Jean Brassat and Gérard Poirot), with conscription orders, at the simple country home of two naïve peasants, sets them on a whirlwind tour of duty. Believing their orders are a result of a nonexistent personal extension of friendship from the king, Michelangelo (Albert Juross) and Ulysses (Marino Masé) are at first hesitant to go to war. However, once the nature of the opportunity presented is spelled out by the riflemen, they can hardly refuse such an offer, especially at the urgings of their girlfriends, Cleopatra (Catherine Ribeiro) and Venus (Geneviève Galéa), whose wants for the niceties and conveniences of modern society can be answered by the rewards offered. They have been handed the key to a prosperous future, as the slip of paper with the king's standard will empower them to obtain all that they desire, from riches to the authority to rape and kill at their pleasure, indulging in all form of savage brutality while reaping the spoils of the land for themselves in the process. The two set out for various battle fronts, all the while enjoying the freedom to do as they please, invoking as much pain and suffering upon all they come across as their imaginations allow. The joys of their executions and defiling of women are laid out in a string of postcards back home, where their girlfriends wait for their triumphant return with riches and presents from around the world. However, what the two return with may not be what they expect, as the realities of war and changing social climates make their presence felt.

Those new to Godard may require some adjusting to his very anti-Hollywood style. Handheld camera work by cinematographer Raoul Coutard is notably shaky, and the purposeful use of jump cuts and abrupt and rough edits jar the audience into knowing they are watching a film, unlike the glossy and fluid stylings most filmmakers use to draw in their viewers. Abandoning convention, Godard also consciously cast unknowns in the film, again dissociating the audience from a sense of comfort and familiarity. According to the mini-commentary on this disc, Godard also employed the use of low grade film stock to give the picture a gritty, war documentary feel that would mesh with the newsreel footage he used to provide realistic backdrops to the scenario, even sending the film back to the lab to gain additional generation losses through reprinting. Les Carabiniers is a darkly humorous film, in that the situations its characters revel in are so absurdly abhorent they are funny. Bookmarked with insipid postcards to home—based on actual war correspondence—the atrocities the two male leads indulge in are relayed to their girlfriends as part of the entertainment value of engaging in warfare. The entire credited cast are perfect in their roles, the two men naïvely rampaging throughout their battle theatres, and the young women placidly waiting for the spoils they have been promised. Also look for cameos by cinematographer Jean Monsigny and director Barbet Schroeder (La Vallee, Single White Female).

While sure to alienate many viewers, Les Carabiniers is a wonderful satire of the anti-war film, unique in style, and poignant in its absurdity. Winstar is also boxing this with Breathless and Le Petit Soldat in their Jean-Luc Godard Collection.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The presentation here is pretty good, perhaps too good, if the extent of Godard's attempts at degrading the image are not exaggerated in the commentary. Grayscale is fairly well represented, though the dark end tends not to reach down to pure black in many scenes. This does look like many of the French films I've seen from this time period, though the extent of the grain is not as high as I was expecting given the comments included on this disc. DVNR is evident in places, as are some background compression issues, with the theatre sequence notable. The rough editing looks appropriate, as do some of the print defects that may or may not have been intentional.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is well presented, though it does have Godard's characteristic peakiness and mild distortion present, along with some hiss and other audible anomalies common to his films. Frequency coverage is appropriate for this period. There doesn't appear to be any issues with the transfer that aren't source-related.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Mini audio commentary by David Sterritt
Extras Review: The extra feature here is an abridged commentary track by author and critic David Skerritt. Running 16m:43s, this featurette uses a nonlinear montage of scenes from the film, which are accompanied by Skerritt's explanations of Godard's method in creating the film. This is quite informative, and its style allows the film elements to follow the narrative, rather than the other way around.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Les Carabiniers requires a dark sense of humor to appreciate. The exploits of its two lead characters would in reality be neither funny nor enjoyable to experience. Godard, however masters the cynical and satiric wit throughout, with his heros basking in the joy and excitement of ritualistic massacre and the degradation of all that come before them, for the simple purpose of material gains in the guise of service to the crown. The style and substance of Les Carabiniers are treasures to those who can appreciate them, though most audiences will find it unpalatable for these very same reasons.


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