the carabineers film review

The Carabineers (1963)


(4 stars out of 5)

The Carabineers (1963) Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

One of the most decipherable Godardian fables, although not for that reason the least radically complex, let us say that it is one of his most intuitive manifestos. To write about any film by the pugnacious and rebellious Jean-Luc Godard is to have to theorize filmic modernism simultaneously with the filmic classicism of the past, for that is the origin of the disruptive aggressiveness of the critical language contained in the razor-sharp filmography of the most obstinate and intolerable filmmaker of the Nouvelle Vague.

Godard had no more densely political period than in the era of the Dziga Vertov group in the late 60’s; however, since his raw short films of the 50’s and his brazen avant-garde flirtations in the early 60’s, his inclination for the political, and for his philosophical principles, has always prevailed. From Marxism to Maoism, Godard’s inscrutable filmography evolved just as violently and drastically, and this 1963 film is one of those that best materializes socialist rigor with cinematic deconstruction, giving us dialectical material that defiantly examines both fields with synthesized scrutiny.

The Carabineers is an anti-war film made in Gordad’s subversive style, where visual experimentalism and transgressive storytelling ridicule the positivist and pseudo-heroic symbols of patriotism. It is a choleric exercise in grotesque deformation of imperialist values, all executed from a perspective of social realism that sardonically makes you doubt whether there is really any realism in its depths. Godard’s grayish, hazy take on the visual textures of war leaves in full view one of his greatest qualities outside of his enigmatic fervor for breaking the rules. With natural settings and an economical cinematic structure, he manages to convince us of the vileness and anguish of war, to make us dizzy with its absurdity, and to establish a belligerent camp with a laconic design that works singularly well, much like what he would do organically in the dystopian urbanism of Alphaville (1965).

One of the most pleasurable imperfections of this film is the frivolous juxtaposition of a bizarre comedy with the bellicose drama, the two main characters have enlightened and divinized names, Ulysses and Michelangelo, but paradoxically they are clumsy and ignorant, easily manipulated and deluded. Giving a reflection to that wordplay is what leads us to compare both contrasting sides, the rules of this Godardian world that exposes the futilities of war with the effect it has on those who fight without knowing why. The grandiloquence of their names has the same measure of their stupidity, both fight for a glorious king who never appears on screen, nor is any detail of him given, yet politically we develop an enormous distrust for the delusional fallacies that speak volumes about a society living under the clutches of despotism. Intellectually, the narrative invites us to criticize and punctiliously analyze every nonsense of war but it continually does so from the dehumanized and vicious mentality of an army that is dominated by the ambitions of a monarch and not those of the people.

The film presents an imaginary non-historical war where the French army begins to recruit people from all walks of life. In this case the film focuses on two farmers who accept the rank of soldier without thinking twice, because they believe that by reaching such a degree of authority they will be able to do whatever they want and they can finally have all the riches that the king has promised them if they fulfill their military participation. They expected a life of freedom and debauchery that crumbles when they realize that they will soon go to war. Ulysses (Marino Masé) and Michel-Angue (Patrice Moullet) will have to manage to return home safe and sound.

Jean-Luc Godard makes use of one of his classic principles as a revolutionary of cinema and the ideas found in it, he makes its political and filmic dimensions work with a very Brechtian ‘alienation effect’ through abnormal sound compositions, something that has perpetually accompanied him since his first feature film.

Here the messy and stark sound design follows a course antithetical to what we are used to seeing in a film with continuous narration, the discomfort that originates from that outrageous sound form, fragments the spaces of reality with illogical sound, giving us the necessary separation between the dramatic illusion of a filmic event and that of the tangibility of a realistic space, thus encouraging more intellectual than emotional immersion. A fascinating and even burlesque paradigm of this is one of my favorite sequences of the film, when one of the characters goes to the cinema for the first time, and intrigued by the septième art begins to investigate how the cinematographic art works, his innocent cluelessness leads him to such a point of curiosity that he ends up wanting to break the two-dimensionality of the film screen to discover how the heck cinematographic projection functions and how it appears to have depth but is flat to the touch; yes clearly a silly and cartoonish scene but essentially comical and intellectual.

The Carabineers has never been the best exponent of this intense film critic and filmmaker’s avant-garde extremism, but when it comes to sampling a bit of this director’s acidity I think it’s indisputable that this film can holistically give you a conception of many of his stages in one film. From convoluted but audacious editing to a semiotic maelstrom that takes apart the language of cinema in the most barbaric and entertaining way, it’s a delectable slice of cinema from one of his richest periods, before the misunderstood and cantankerous Jean-Luc Godard started hating cinema.


Matteo Bedon

Written by

When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them. Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.

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