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Critic's Pick

Jean-Luc Godard's '60s classic 'Le Petit Soldat' returns at Nuart

April 24, 2013|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • Anna Karina plays Veronica, the woman worth giving up country for in Jean-Luc Godard's classic political thriller "Le Petit Soldat."
Anna Karina plays Veronica, the woman worth giving up country for in Jean-Luc… (Courtesy: Rialto Pictures/Studiocanal )

There is a chilling resonance in watching “Le Petit Soldat,” Jean-Luc Godard’s classic story of love and allegiance that begins a special one-week run at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles on Friday with a newly remastered print and enhanced subtitles.

Its political intrigues entangled with a love story, Godard used the movie as a way to discuss his own take on the rumors of government torture of those who supported the Algerian insurrection against French occupation.

Due to be released in 1960, the politically sensitive film was banned in France until 1963, roughly a year after the Algerian war of independence had ended and the reports of torture of insurgents and innocents alike lingered like a dark shadow over the country.

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Though that was a lifetime ago, the French government’s outrage over the film sounded much like last year’s Beltway protest of “Zero Dark Thirty.” For a time, Kathryn Bigelow’s depiction of CIA interrogations of suspected Al Qaeda operatives in the film -- her water-boarding scene in particular -- riveted Washington and rocked Hollywood, arguably diminishing the film’s prospects.

Godard’s movie is set in Geneva and uses the fate of a French army deserter, Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor), to take us inside the covert war between France and the Algerian Liberation Front. The complications involve the clash between the moral dilemmas of any war and a classic love story that demands someone choose between love and country.

Anna Karina plays Veronica, the woman worth giving everything up for. It was the actress’ first film with Godard; their brief and rocky marriage would begin the year after it wrapped.

Beyond the timelessness of the story itself, the film is beautifully shot and though early in Godard’s career already showcased his ability to capture emotional intensity in the very way he frames the shots. It is an extraordinary film to watch even without the political parallels. But with them, and you can’t help but see them, it makes “Le Petit Soldat,” “The Little Soldier,” more powerful still.

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