This dry, dark, witty anti-war film by Jean-Luc Godard outraged French critics in 1963 by not incorporating the humanist cliches employed by virtually every war film that Makes a Statement, from All Quiet on the Western Front down to Saving Private Ryan. There are no pockets of humanity in Godard's universal battle of all against all; his protagonists are two thugs, Ulysses and Michelangelo, who learn nothing as they loot and pillage their way around the world. Their exploits are chronicled in the postcards they send home, their words drawn from letters home by soldiers at Stalingrad, by a hussar for Napoleon, and from dispatches by Heinrich Himmler. Executions take place at random, and are photographed in fragments. Godard's use of crudely scrawled titles and high-contrast stock harks back to the look of silent cinema, in particular the surviving footage of this century's first of many insane wars, World War I. In its casual brutality this film anticipates both the unglamorous genocides of 1990s conflicts in Bosnia and Africa, and Godard's own film on the recent war in Yugoslavia, For Ever Mozart. "I filmed war objectively at all levels, conscience included," wrote Godard in 1963. "In Carabiniers, having treated as an improvised farce something for which so many men have died, it seems to me that the film has fulfilled the basic requirements of decency."
Les Carabiniers screens Wednesday through Saturday at 9 p.m. (also Saturday at 5:40 p.m.) with Hal Hartley's The Unbelievable Truth at 7:15 p.m. at the Fine Arts Cinema, 2451 Shattuck (at Haste) in Berkeley. Admission is $6; call (510) 848-1143.
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