“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.” Scott Foundas in the Voice: “Yet despite following Breathless and featuring the first appearance of JLG’s 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 Rialto Pictures reissue, in a new 35mm print with fresh English subtitles by the redoubtable Lenny Borger.”

In Slant, Drew Hunt argues that “in many ways, Le Petit Soldat is equal to Breathless in its inventiveness and exuberance. A sort of political thriller (in the same nominal, oblique way Breathless is a gangster film), Godard’s second film tells the story of a young Frenchman, Bruno (Michel Subor), a photojournalist living in Geneva so that he may avoid enlistment. After refusing to assassinate a French FLN sympathizer, the French intelligence group with which he’s affiliated suspects Bruno of being a double agent, complicating his infatuation with his newfound love, Veronica (Anna Karina), who has political ties of her own. Despite their contrasting subjects, Breathless and Le Petit Soldat share many thematic and stylistic similarities, attributed to their Sartrean influence and Godard’s infatuation with cinema as the great conduit of human emotion.”

“Godard creates an on-edge atmosphere from the start, removing most of the ambient sound and emphasizing our protagonist’s distracted ambivalence,” writes Time Out New York‘s Keith Uhlich. “Like his creator, Forestier’s mind tends to wander from real-world concerns to more abstract matters that ostensibly help make sense of an injudicious situation.”

See also Tim Palmer (Senses of Cinema, 2002), Dan Sallitt (2008), and Justin Vicari (Jump Cut, 2008).

At Film Forum from tomorrow through March 14.

Update, 3/11: “Like Zero Dark Thirty, the film’s protagonist is a secret agent on the hunt for terrorists and their sympathizers,” writes the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody. “Like Zero Dark Thirty, many incidents in the film were based on real-life events (though there’s no title card stating as much). Like Zero Dark Thirty, the movie proved controversial—not least with the French government, which banned the movie outright both in France and internationally (the latter accomplished by threatening to bar Godard, a Swiss citizen, from France and the film’s producer, Georges de Beauregard, from the movie industry altogether if it were shown outside the country).” But Le Petit Soldat “stands apart from Zero Dark Thirty in other significant ways. Godard’s harsh and direct, yet complex and intimate approach to the subject contrasts with Bigelow’s relatively careless, aesthetically mediocre, and entertainingly grandiose and unsophisticated way with it, and the crucial differences that result are ultimately not just aesthetic but moral.”

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