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Fox Lorber presents
The Little Soldier (Le Petit soldat) (1963)

"It's very important to have an ideal. Against the Germans, the French had an ideal. Against the Algerians, they don't."
- Veronica Dreyer (Anna Karina)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: December 20, 2001

Stars: Michel Subor, Anna Karina
Other Stars: Henri-Jacques Huet, Paul Beauvais, Laszló Szábó, Georges de Beauregard, Gilbert Edard, Jean-Luc Godard
Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (themes)
Run Time: 01h:24m:11s
Release Date: November 27, 2001
UPC: 720917526720
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BA-B C+

DVD Review

After the smash success of his first feature film, À bout de souffle (Breathless), director Jean-Luc Godard turned to a more topical, and controversial subject at the time, setting his follow-up, Le Petit Soldad (The Little Soldier) amid the political turmoil of Algeria's fight for independence from France. The film did strike a nerve, at least among the censor board, who banned the film for two years based on its depictions of torture—a touchy subject during that period—and its ambiguous political message, which questioned France's involvement in Algeria. While upset that his second feature had been banned, he also considered it a compliment that he could deliver a film that could garner such a reaction. When finally released in 1963, after the tension of succession had passed, audiences were less than enthused about the offering, finding the lack of a solid agenda in its main character confusing, which was entirely the point. Godard would take this criticism by stating that he was not making films, but attempting to make them, sometimes succeeding, other times not, but that the effort was the interesting part—better to try and fail than not try at all.

Michel Subor plays Bruno Forestier, a young idealist and French exile, whose right wing politics have him involved with a network of secret agents looking to forward their cause through select assassinations. He is given the task of eliminating a prominent radio personality rumored to be assisting the Algerians, but soon decides that he is not up to the task, putting him at odds with the operatives commanding him, who begin to question his loyalty. Indeed, Bruno is uncertain of his allegiances, though he is not necessarily changing sides—he is questioning his own principles. When he meets Veronica (Anna Karina) he begins to see a different life for himself, one in which he can have the happiness of love and outside the political subterfuge he has been involved in. But leaving the past behind is no simple matter, as both sides have a use for him.

The film delves into many moral dilemmas surrounding the subversive nature of conflict, as allegiance and betrayal are contrasted with sense of duty and the protection afforded by a sense of being loved. Notable for its depiction of torture as an accepted tool in a greater cause, this aspect was cited as the reason for the film's banning, since the practice was widespread during the Algerian conflict, and not a subject to which the government wanted to call attention. Le Petit Soldat also failed to align itself with the French cause at the time, with its characters questioning French policy and their support of its cause. Michel Subor's characterization of Bruno captures this indecisiveness, yet also his conviction to his own ethics. The trademark voiceover exposes his inner thoughts, as his verbalizations explore the appearances he tries to live up to. The performance is effective, relaying the inner conflict of a man whose morals are in turmoil.

Le Petit Soldat was also Godard's first introduction to the captivating Anna Karina, who he hired solely for her looks, but married before the end of 1960. The range of her ability is evident in a sequence where Bruno has her posing for a photo shoot, her expressions morphing between all manner of inner emotions in tight close-up. Karina would become an integral part of Godard's filmmaking, developing an intimate rapport with the director who showcased her considerable talents in many of his subsequent films, including Une femme est une femme (A Woman Is A Woman - 1961), Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux (It's My Life To Live - 1962) , Bande à part (Band Of Outsiders - 1964) and Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (Alphaville - 1965). Le Petit Soldat carries over the cinema verite styling of À bout de souffle, but its structure is much more refined and polished, though the story itself has a distinct lack of direction, which consciously or not, relays its character's own sense of self examination, never knowing quite where its headed until it arrives. The ending will leave many unsatisfied, but the journey is an interesting one.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: This transfer was created from archival 16mm prints for the BBC, and was subsequently digitally processed for this DVD. Gray scale is well rendered, though there are a number of nighttime scenes that do not resolve to solid black—this may be intentional as it is not consistent from shot to shot. Grain is evident, though naturally rendered, however does appear less evident than I would expect from a 16mm source. Contrast for the most part is good, though some specific shots tend to seem a bit too washed out. Print defects are minimal, limited to the odd speck or scratch, most of which are not worth mentioning. There is some aliasing in places as well. A solid transfer, though I would have prefered more attention to black levels, unless the scenes in question were intended to be as they are presented.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is serviceable, but does have a tendency to be over sibilant with an emphasis on the midrange, causing a somewhat brittle presentation. There is also a constant ambient hiss throughout, which could be attributed to the location recording. Other signs of age include some crackling and distortion in the dialogue. While not out of character for films from this era, some of this could have been addressed in the mastering stages.

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: Like some other discs in Fox Lorber's Godard series, Le Petit Soldat features a 15m:03s mini commentary by author and critic David Skerritt. Set against a montage of scenes from the film, Skerritt discusses Godard's second effort in relation to his others, including the political issues surrounding its banning, and some of the noteable sequences contained in the movie, including the oft quoted "Film is truth at 24 frames per second," a phrase reviewers and critics would seize on when discussing Godard, whether he subscribed to the philosophy or not. There is more interesting insight here, and this makes a worthy inclusion.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Le Petit Soldat makes a fine addition for Godard fans, but general audiences may find it trying their patience in parts, and the film's refusal to commit to an ideology may prove confusing and frustrating. The performances are top notch, and the cinematography plays into the feel with an intimacy and sense of surrounding that definitely enhances the picture. Its place as Godard's second film makes it a necessity in any art film library, but may only warrant a rental for less adventurous audiences. I would not recommend this as anyone's first Godard experience.


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