Le Petit Soldat (1963)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard.
Starring: Michel Subor (Bruno Forestier), Anna Karina (Veronica Dreyer), Henri-Jacques Huet (Jacques), Paul Beauvais (Paul), László Szabó (Laszlo), Georges de Beauregard (Activist Leader).
During the Algerian war, a young French deserter gets involved with a woman who is fighting for the other side.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Bruno Forestier, currently working in Geneva, is a reporter for the French Information Bureau. In the news is the report of the recent death of Geneva Professor Lachenal. It is May 13, 1958. Bruno meets a Russian girl named Veronica and is immediately taken with her. As narrator, he comments that "I was young and foolish -- a guy with no ideals."
We meet Jacques, a man in "our" anti-terrorist group, which was financed by an ex-parliamentarian who had been pro-Vichy. They are involved in a secret war. The Arab Palivoda is on air for Radio Geneva. Since the French anti-terrorist group suspects Bruno of being a double agent, Bruno is given the assignment of killing Palivoda. (The news in the paper is about the death of a man named Latouche.) Bruno does not want to kill Palivoda and tells Jacques and Paul: "You can't force me to kill him." But the two men respond that he either kill Palivoda or they will kill him.
Bruno has fallen in love with Veronica. He dreams of taking her with him to Brazil. He learns that her complete name is Veronica Dreyer.
Jacques and Paul steal Bruno's car and use it to ram a Pontiac owned by a confederate. They then put the police onto Bruno. The police pick up Bruno, but the anti-terrorist group decides not to press charges against him. Getting the message, Bruno attempts to kill Palivoda, but he just can't bring himself to do it. Paul accuses him of being a traitor and follows Bruno to make sure that Bruno kills Palivoda. But Bruno pushes Paul into the water and makes his get away.
Bruno asks Veronica to go with him to Brazil, but she is reluctant, so he starts to go by himself via Zurich. (Somewhere along the line she tells him that she works for the Algerians.) He does not get very far because men working on the side of the Algerians pick him up. They torture him to get information from him, but Bruno does not talk. He even tries to kill himself twice rather than reveal any information. This is rather odd because Bruno, as he said, has no ideals. He said he would turn sides if they made him a good offer, but they refused. They finally let him go with Veronica. Veronica tells him that Jacques and Paul had come looking for him. Bruno admits to Veronica the he, Paul and Jacques were the ones who had killed Professor Lachenal. Veronica tells him that that was completely unnecessary because the professor only thought that the Algerian War was unfair and that was the limit of his involvement with the cause. (Bruno's attempt at philosophizing is a bunch of ramblings making little sense and are more excuses for his behavior than a real philosophy.) Bruno calls up Jacques and Paul and gives them the address of Algerian agent Mohamed Messousa in return for the promise of two diplomatic passports. This makes Jacques and Paul want to know more about Veronica and they put in a call for some background research on her.
Jacques and Paul contact Bruno to tell him that there is no Messousa at the address he had given them. So now Bruno has to kill Palivoda in order to get the two passports. As Bruno goes out to kill Palivoda, Jacques and Paul, having received the report on Veronica, kidnap her. They figure that Veronica must know the address that they want so badly. They torture her.
Bruno kills Palivoda with a shot to the back. He then learns that Veronica is dead. His last cynical words are: "One thing I've learned is not to be bitter. I was just glad to still have so much time left."
The film was very controversial when it came out because of its exposure of the use of torture by both sides, French and Algerian, in the Algerian War. But neither my wife nor I liked the movie. As he said about himself, Bruno has no ideals. There can be no real respect for such a man and this is especially true for a man who is an assassin. One cannot admire a man who would switch sides for the right price. To me the film did not really make sense. Why would a man without ideals work as a virtual professional assassin, not to mention risking his life, without the promise of big money. Why would such a man withstand torture for a side in which he did not really believe. It just doesn't make any real sense. All you can say is that the movie is just supremely cynical. (If the French did not have any ideals in this war, certainly the Algerians did seeing as how they were fighting for their independence from the French colonialists.) The best thing about the movie is that it was short, less than an hour and a half.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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