Saturday, October 27, 2012

#803. Les Carabiniers (1963)

Directed By: Jean-Luc Godard

Starring: Patrice Moullet, Marino Masé, Geneviève Galéa

Trivia: Director Barbet Schroeder makes a cameo appearance in this film, playing a car salesman

Les Carabiniers, director Jean-Luc Godard’s darkly comedic attempt to make an anti-war film, ultimately falls a bit short of the mark. Yet, despite its weaknesses, Les Carabiniers is still an interesting watch.

A pair of brothers: Michelangelo (Albert Juross) and Ulysses (Marino Mase), live a quiet life on a farm with the women in their lives, Venus (Genevieve Galea) and Cleopatre (Catherine Ribeiro). One day, they’re visited by two soldiers, who bring them a letter from the king asking for the brothers’ help in an upcoming war. Promised riches beyond their wildest dreams, and coerced into enlisting by Venus and Cleopatre, the men march off to battle.

As it turns out, Michelangelo and Ulysses are natural soldiers, fighting and killing (and occasionally looting and pillaging) for the glory of their king. They send numerous postcards to Venus and Cleopatre telling of their exploits, including the number of people they’ve killed and how they go about disposing of the bodies. When the brothers finally return home, the two girls are upset that they didn’t bring them any gifts, at which point Michelangelo and Ulysses pull out dozens of postcards showing lands and treasure they will surely receive as a reward for their excellent service. But the war is not going well for the king, and Michelangelo and Ulysses might have to answer for their questionable conduct during battle.

Les Carabiniers has some funny moments, like when Ulysses attempts to “purchase” a Maserati by showing the salesman (played by Barbet Schroeder) the king’s letter promising riches, only to discover he also needs money. My favorite sequence has Michelangelo visiting a movie theater for the very first time and watching a film in which a woman is about to take a bath. Unaware of the cinema’s spatial limitations, he tries to peek around the corner when she steps off-screen to remove her clothing. The scene where the main characters return home with their postcards is also a high point, a prolonged sequence that gets more entertaining as it progresses.

While the comedy in Les Carabiniers works, the anti-war message gets lost in the shuffle, and doesn’t really come across as Godard intended. The director tries to convey his contempt for war by showing contempt for Michelangelo and Ulysses, whose actions in combat are reprehensible. But the moral is somewhat muted by the poor performances of the four leads, all of whom were amateurs at the time, and as a result, Les Carabiniers never rises above the level of a simple comedy.

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