Watching Les Carabiniers

les20carabiniersLes Carabiniers (1963)

I had no preconceived notions for the early film by Jean Luc-Godard except that I had seen another film of his, “A Bout de Souffle” (1960). Before pressing play, Grisha said something like “this film relates to what it means to go out into the world and make pictures.” I was thinking it would be directly about photography like perhaps “the riflemen” was a metaphor for “shooting” photographs. While I suppose it could be translated this way, to me there was much else going on that stood in the way of fitting this metaphor. Things that came up for me while watching the film were:

  • How he uses form to inform content. He creates order in highly composed and visually balanced shots while also creating chaos by transitioning with sporadic jump-cuts that travel across time and space and associate subjects and story. The “order and method” of the military, with a “pragmatic” agenda can not be separated from the human experience of violence. The audience is not spared either but sensationally annihilated with aggressive gun sounds and the violating desires of the peasants turned soldier.
  • How he connects images and sounds. Especially through inter-titles that resemble writing on a chalkboard. The film instructs as it entertains, instructing through “entertainment.” Godard imagined thoroughly the extent of debauchery and places it in the framework of war.
  • The real vs. the referent image. How do we experience reality vs. images of these realities? How do we interact and experience images especially when physical objects like the postcards, or the screen onto which the film was projected?
  • Benjamin’s argument of “the longing of the masses to bring objects closer.” The effect of media to inform, and to bring experiences, information closer while still keeping experience far. An expectation that can drive dissatisfaction.
  • The sensationalism of modernity. The film as an allegory for the constant sensational trauma of what was then relatively new modern life. I actually cried at the part where they flung the industrial notecards all around without looking at them. The only notecards they didn’t even glance at. It was to me either mourning or straight-up apathy for the way that industry (including the manufacturing of weapons) permanently changed the landscape of the world and humankind’s experience of the world.
  • The victorious blonde female soldier in disguise. After the barrage of images of objectified women, the contrast of her presence hits powerfully. She seems a symbolic figure reference besides that of representing the International Proletariat.
  • When this woman says “I represent the International Proletariat” and proceeds not to die after being shot many times. This made a literal, straightforward statement to me. The proletariat will have to be shot and pushed down many, many, many times before they will die, a message to the elite ruling class.
  • The role of seduction, and flirting with the audience–about to reveal, about to reveal but never delivering. The medium has a unique power to play with our expectations and gaze especially in terms of objectifying the female body (The Male Gaze). 
  • It seems there is deep and complex meaning in this film. Some of which I feel I missed because of lack of information. References to current events, cultural experiences, and even to other films.
  • The interplay of boredom and overwhelm. I found myself entertained and kept watching because of the sights that disturbed/excited but also was made bored by the monotony of the violence.

Overall Les Carabiniers is a powerful and memorable film thinking about the function of media—movies, photography, and advertising—in the human experience.


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