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The Carabineers

Jean-Luc Godard's The Carabineers (Les Carabiniers, 1963) is the most rarely seen of his feature films from the early 1960s. Although the anti-war satire in The Carabineers is perfectly clear, Godard's aesthetic intentions were largely misunderstood and unappreciated at the time of its release. If anything, the film's acting style and extensive use of newsreel footage and handwritten text look forward to the director's formally and politically radical films of the late Sixties and Seventies.

The source material for The Carabineers is the 1945 play I Carabinieri by the Italian playwright Beniamino Joppolo (1906-1963). Banned in Italy, it was first performed in Paris and Vienna. In 1962 Roberto Rossellini staged the play for the opening night of the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, but he faced a hostile audience and complaints lodged by the actual Italian Carabinieri. Later, according to Rossellini biographer Tag Gallagher, Jean Gruault "recorded a tape of Roberto telling the play's story," and passed it on to Godard. Apparently this was the extent of Rossellini's actual involvement with Godard's film, though he did receive screen credit as a co-author for the script. Beniamino Joppolo's son Giovanni recalls that Joppolo and Godard met frequently in Paris to discuss the adaptation.

However, in an interview published in the December 1962 issue of Cahiers du cinéma, Godard claimed that the screenplay was written mainly by Rossellini, adding: "The scenario is so good that all I need to do is film it without worrying." He also declared that he wanted to shoot the film in 16mm and color since "shooting in 16mm matches the spirit of the film" and that "it will all be very realistic, but seen from a purely theatrical perspective, with war scenes, commando-style as in Fuller's films, and some newsreel footage." While Godard's ideas about the film no doubt evolved by the time shooting began, its rough and contrasting appearance belies the care that he and his cinematographer Raoul Coutard took to create its visual style. Godard later explained that Coutard shot the film with Kodak XX black-and-white negative, but used high contrast stock for the positive prints and even duped certain shots multiple times to increase the contrast and match the newsreel footage.

According to Godard scholar Colin MacCabe, The Carabineers sold fewer than 3,000 tickets during its initial Paris release, making it one of the greatest flops of that era. Critics also savaged it. Jean Rochereau of La Croix characterized it as "Scenes shot at random, edited any old how, stuffed with continuity errors." Robert Benayoun of France-Observateur wrote, "Godard wallows in his own mire by using overexposed photography." The reviewer for L'Express called it a "badly made, badly lit, badly everything film." In an article published in the August 1963 issue of Cahiers du cinéma, Godard dissected their arguments point by point, detailing the care with which he had constructed the film. Among other things, he claimed, the text of the letters written by the characters of Ulysses and Michel-Ange were "copied word for word from letters by soldiers in the siege of Stalingrad, from a letter by one of Napoleon's hussars in the Spanish campaign, and also from circulars by Himmler to his various chiefs of staff[.]" Godard perhaps summed up his intentions best when he wrote, "Having treated as an improvised farce something for which so many men have died, it seems to me that the film fulfills the basic requirements of decency."

Producer: Georges de Beauregard
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Gruault and Roberto Rossellini, adapted from the play I Carabinieri by Beniamino Joppolo
Photography: Raoul Coutard
Editing: Agnès Guillemot
Sound: Jacques Maumont
Production Design: Jean-Jacques Fabre
Music: Philippe Arthuys
Cast: Marino Masé (Ulysses); Patrice Moullet (Michel-Ange); Geneviève Galéa (Venus); Catherine Ribeiro (Cleopatre); Barbet Schroeder (Car salesman); Jean-Louis Comolli (Soldier with fish): Gérard Poirot (Carabinier #1); Jean Brassat (Carabinier #2); Alvaro Gheri (Carabinier #3): Odile Geoffroy (Young Communist girl).
C-80m.

by James Steffen

VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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