Critics' Pick

The Little Soldier (Le Petit Soldat) (NR)

Drama 88 min. March 8, 2013
By Scott Foundas
A scandal in 1960, banned by French authorities for its depiction of government-sanctioned torture and references to that country’s clandestine guerre sans nom in Algeria, Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Petit Soldat might have been the Zero Dark Thirty of its day — if only more people had actually seen it. Yet despite following Breathless and featuring the first appearance of JLG muse (and future wife) Anna Karina, Godard’s second full-length feature has remained one of his least screened and debated — a status sure to change with this welcome Rialto Pictures reissue, in a new 35mm print with fresh English subtitles by the redoubtable Lenny Borger. Trading the Paris streets he immortalized in his debut for those of Geneva, Godard here follows the increasingly compromised fortunes of Bruno Forestier (the brooding Michel Subor), a French army deserter working as a news-agency photographer and, on the side, as an operative for an “anti-terrorist” (read anti-Algerian) network using neutral Switzerland as its base. When Bruno balks at his latest assignment — to assassinate a talk-radio host sympathetic to the Algerian cause — he finds himself squeezed (and waterboarded and electroshocked) by heavies on both political sides, as he plots his escape to sunny Brazil. It’s a classic espionage plot shot through with a heady Godardian mix of art and literary references. In the film’s centerpiece, Bruno photographs Karina’s Veronica over the course of a long afternoon, at one point speaking that eternal Godard maxim, “Cinema is truth 24 times per second.”
Jean-Luc Godard Michel Subor, Anna Karina, Henri-Jacques Huet, Paul Beauvais, László Szabó Jean-Luc Godard Rialto Pictures