Psychology of Private Love Blended With Political Thriller and Cultural Criticism

Talented individuals with psychologically deeply rooted and rich and multifaceted personalities not only have social ambitions and professional dreams, but moral and intellectual ideals demanding realization. And this last factor makes them even more vulnerable to militant political organizations.


“Le petit soldat/The Little Soldier” (film trailer)


Bruno and Veronica spending time together

Godard and Bruno

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Godard observes Bruno (Michel Subor) not like a detective, but like an elder brother, like before he observed Michel Poiccard in “Breathless”. Bruno is as much of a “modern” type of a Western hero as is Michel, but he is much more of an “intellectual” and he is culturally educated. He is more admirable than Michel but also much more disappointing. Godard wants to get at the bottom of Bruno’s failure as a human being. Is this failure that of the very revolutionary aspirations of the Western youth?

Veronica

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We see here how Veronica (Anna Karina) is saying “no” to Bruno, following his own joking suggestion, but neither she nor he knows that she is talking for their destiny and for her life.

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Veronica is posing for Bruno-a professional photographer. She, like her generation, flirts with the idea of lending her identity to be an ad-heart of the records of mass culture

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Veronica is doing what the photographer is telling her to do, but her intelligent charm radiates through the ritual of making commercial photos

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Veronica is playful with Bruno without any intentions. They are like children in the world of adults. They don’t know that childish games of adults can have grave consequences

Bruno Forestier

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Bruno is trapped by the right-wing organization where agents (his enemies pretending to be his friends) knowing moral radicalism of his personality blackmail him into obedient service.

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Feeling more and more infuriated Bruno impulsively decides to cut ties with the right-wing political structure, but these people masterfully trapped him again.

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Bruno is a young man with a developed internal world and his own will able to act according to his personal intentionality, not according to orders and expectations of his political bosses. But the issue is – is to be culturally educated and a decent person enough to resist the grip of a repressive and militant organization and ideology with, indeed, impressive power over even so called democratic societies?

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The “little soldier“-Bruno looks at the viewers without asking for advice or help nor condescending pity. His gaze is already acknowledging that he is trapped (like the majority of people kept by the throat by the necessity to succeed in the world belonging to masters-decision-makers), but somehow we feel in his eyes a mute appeal of somebody who is victim of the socio-political manipulation.

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Bruno is calling Veronica who is controlled by her left-wing bosses like he – by his right-wing ones.

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Bruno is psychologically yearning for freedom to resist the conventional society, but he is controlled by very developed manipulative strategies modern societies are equipped with. We live not in traditional or ideological monarchies, but under a political establishment with a mighty arsenal of seducing, corrupting and intimidating tools. And now it is much more difficult, than in older times, to resist, if you want to avoid personal martyrdom.

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While driving in the car of his dreams, recruited not only as an informer, but as a political ”hit-man” Bruno mobilizes his cultural erudition shifting his focus from the poets to painters, from philosophers to scholars – to forget what he is hired to do in Switzerland.

Veronica and Bruno

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His feeling of resistance against being manipulated and exploited for the sake of somebody else’s interests Bruno perceives not existentially, but “philosophically”, as if, it is a problem of human individual and his particular destiny, and not that of people’s socio-cultural life in general.

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Bruno’s “great” ambition to be able to face any danger and to go through whatever ordeal corresponds to the elegancy of how he formulates to himself the difficulties which pursuing him and how he assesses his capacity to resist the pressures on him by the circumstances.

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Sometimes both, Bruno and Veronica, feel that they are equally trapped by their corresponding political affiliations (although Veronica has chosen hers herself), but they see it as a problem of their individual self-realization, not as objective condition, and they somehow feel ashamed to share it with one another. They are like a brother and sister separated by a politico-ideological divide. And they unconsciously try to mask this fact of being existential siblings by eroticizing their mutual attraction.

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“God, Veronica was beautiful”; but Bruno’s rush to appropriate her erotically, as understandable as it may be, tells us about his narcissistic immaturity which can express itself in other situations as well. It is, as if, with an attractive girl, it is natural to try to immediately establish erotic ties while detouring other existentially important issues, some of them much deeper than amorous sentiments.

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Bruno is a person who is prone to declare to others the nobility of his relations with love. No, he doesn’t expect applauds, but he, as if, needs to remind himself of his tremendously dignified position in love relations as though he has a compulsion of reminding himself who he is, as if, he is not sure about it. Is he unconsciously trying to balance his self-reflective intelligence with his socio-political conformism? If so, private behavior very often compensates a person for his/her conformist social life.

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Bruno likes to think about complicated philosophical and psychological questions without taking into consideration that the answers cannot be as limited to the general context of the certain area discussed as questions, but may demands invoking the facts which a person prefers to be silent about.

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Veronica seems to Bruno more and more irresistible

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“Le petit soldat” was Anna Karina’s first serious film. And it is here that for the first time she overwhelmed the audience with the versatility of her facial expressions and intonations.

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Another Karina’s gaze like a flower from the feverish monotony around

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Something in Veronica already understands that her and Bruno’s conflict with their so different and so similar political bosses cannot be resolved easily.

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Veronica becomes a girl again when she thinks about her socio-political ideals – she is too youthful to comprehend that militant political fight destroys not only these sublime moral ideals but personal decency of those who join militant political organizations. There is an incompatibility between moral ideals and militaristic political praxis which noble young people don’t think through.

Right and Left Wing Functionaries and Secret Agents

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Bruno’s bosses – Jacques (Henri-Jacques Huet – to the right) and Paul (Paul Beauvais)

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Jacques is teaching Bruno how to watch somebody without showing his face

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Paul shows Bruno his target

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Jacques moves secret operation through telephone lines

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Secret agents working for Algerian independence

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Laszlo (Laszlo Szabo) is making preparations for kidnapping Bruno

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Bruno, hunting after his target, hides behind the ad of neo-Nazi organization

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Composition of the shot suggests that those who hide behind the Hitler poster are not necessarily neo-fascists, but people pursuing other political agendas by using Nazi tactics (which became universalized) in their political fight.

A New Face of Western Civilization

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Torturers prepared Bruno for séance of torture

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“Between torture sessions, we had great political discussions”

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Already in the1960s Godard showed – what today in US has become the righteous and the proud way to treat enemies

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Already in the 1960s Godard predicted that not only torture will become legal and a routine practice, but that it will become a normal thing to depict, to show and to discuss publicly, and to feel heroic and “optimistic” about using torture.

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Torturers put their hands on Bruno’s helpless body

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Bruno goes through waterboarding with dignity

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Various moments of waterboarding procedure (1)

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Various moments of waterboarding procedure (2)

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Godard’s Bruno and Veronica, like Romeo and Juliette, belong to the opposite sides fighting one another. Of course, in Bruno and Veronica’s case the antagonistic sides are not “two families”, but the right- and left-wing political structures under opposite ideological banners. The extreme right and extreme left world-views differ in content but are similar in its psychological and behavioral code. Godard makes us to observe the loyalists of both sides giving us the opportunity to collect our own impressions about their psychological similarity. But what is even more impressive in the film than the comparison between secret agents of the two clans, one fighting against Algeria‘s independence and the other – for its independence, it is how our amorous couple – Bruno and Veronica became what they are: one joined the fighters against Algeria’s liberation from France and the other – for it.

Bruno is trapped into becoming a secret agent by the right-wing blackmail, but Veronica joined the left-wing organization voluntary, with a trembling idealistic dedication. Bruno’s moral ideals are not fascist in any way – they are rather based on the values of individual nobility and narcissistic belief that he will be able to maintain his personal decency in any circumstances and outsmart all the attempts to use him for immoral goals. Veronica’s moral ideals, on the other hand, are humanistic – to try to help those who are trying to liberate themselves from domination. Veronica’s political idealism is rooted in the concept of historical development, while Bruno has the self-consciousness of an intellectual and appeared in the area of politics by chance – his real interest is spiritual development in secular terms: through education in arts and philosophy, through sharpening his aesthetic and cognitive sensitivity. Veronica’s dedications are divided on personal relationships (here Bruno was a direct and lucky beneficiary) and socio-political level of life. Bruno’s self-image is connected with his personal courage, readiness to face ordeals and the necessity to achieve better understanding of art and life. The catastrophic naiveté of Veronica is projection of her moral ideals into political fight without understanding that the nature of political fight is different from the area of having moral ideals – that during the fight moral ideals will become unrecognizable – they will transform into ideological dreams swearing with propaganda while political fight will become dirtier and dirtier by the excuse of necessity and inevitability. In other words, moral ideals will become a banner stuff, and political fight – destruction, murders and torture, propagandist disinformation and manipulation for the sake of achieving victory. Bruno’s connection with the right-wing defenders of the traditional power, wealth and further wealth-making is ambiguous from the beginning (the right-wingers trapped him after his refutation to enlist during Algerian war). Eventually, after doomed attempts of resisting, he did what they wanted – he killed the target they wanted to eliminate. But it was not the worst thing Bruno did under the pressure – he betrayed the woman he thought he loved –Veronica, not intentionally, of course, but by putting his alertness – understanding of what’s going on – down (he let his bosses to outsmart him, he underestimated the high professionalism of their meanness, he misperceived the circumstances they created).

How was it possible for Bruno, amateurish but sharp mind and observant gaze, let these primitive guardians of the status quo – Jacques and Paul, to outplay him and kill his love? One of the reasons, it seems, is the very direction of his intelligence. People who try to realize themselves through symbolic culture can be awkward and vulnerable in real life. Bruno’s intelligence followed traditional concept of mental development as a process between the individual and secular spirituality coded in arts and philosophy. This traditional concept of what it means to become more intellectually developed doesn’t include sociological, socio-psychological and economic analysis of societal life and analysis of historical process – matters too prosaic to be considered important. While Veronica projected her political idealism into a noble socio-political goal without thinking much, for Bruno socio-political reality doesn’t exist at all as serious matter. His creative unconscious doesn’t give a damn about political reality. By being under-attentive to it he allowed the possibility of Veronica being caught – he just didn’t consider that something like this might happen. But there is something else – can it be that, may be, he wasn’t worried enough about Veronica?

But he loved Veronica – he was fascinated by her, he dreamed about their love. Subjectively, he was in love with Veronica, but objectively… The difference between subjective and objective aspects of love is the issue of the ability to objectify love, to invest it in factual reality. It’s a matter of being interested in the environment love creates and in how love proves itself. A person like Bruno is not interested in love in this extraspective sense. He can be erotically inspired. He can be genuinely charming. As a personality he is expressive and multifaceted. His gift is to impress, not to care about another person. He wasn’t attentive enough to Veronica – he didn’t know how. He is too much of a soldier. He deserved to be cared for, but he cannot reciprocate care.

Bruno is no doubt erotically involved with Veronica. For woman it is an honor to be loved by Bruno Forestier. But it is not the experience. He shared with Veronica his impressive (for young man) ideas, associations, images. But he is ontologically closed. He is a monad isolated from the world including Veronica. His love is an instrument for being loved. There is no path from him back to the world.

Like Bruno is super-masculine, although in a sublimated form, Veronica is super-feminine, and these features are part of their fascination with each other, and this doesn’t help their “survival together” in barbaric environment they found themselves in – they are so fit together, that they, as if, swallow one another’s presence instead of paying attention to the world around them. They are “melting” from each other instead of helping one another to be more alert. If Bruno could be more sensitive and more caring, and Veronica – more operationally analytical and less relying on his mind and decisions, they could find a way to get rid of their political loyalties on time and wouldn’t become objects of a successful manipulation and victims of political cruelty and Machiavellianism.

Bruno and Veronica both are unbelievably naïve to play with real politics, with catastrophic consequences. Until people like them look for meaning of life in personal development (Bruno) and international justice (Veronica), people like Laszlo (torturer of Bruno) and Jacques and Paul (manipulators of Bruno and murderers of Veronica) get unprecedented competence in how to trick, mislead, manipulate, torture and murder. In the same way, there is an incomparable difference between military recruiters’ competence in propaganda and manipulation and the enlisted youth opened to life as mouth to air, or between higher ranking military specialists and regular military personnel, or between scholars of humanistic sciences and specialists in knowledge of how to manipulate, kill and destroy life. Humanistic sciences/liberal arts are more and more pure idealism while propagandists of exploitation and hate have practical knowledge of how to lie and mislead and get rid of millions of people they consider superfluous for their civilization of wealthy elite.

Intellectuals are “romantic” about intellectuality, idealistic about disinterested knowledge and understanding, about a life as purified by cognitive sublimation. But while they pursue their difficult cognitive projects, neocons train themselves in barbaric practices of propaganda, in technological mass murders, in exploitation and in practical economy of profit-making beyond limits.

Godard’s film is a grave warning. We ought to rush to understand it better. “Le petit soldat” is a film about systemic abuse of the young people, taking from them their right to study about the functioning of human societies inside historical processes, about manipulating the young ones by transforming them into self-sacrificial servants of the financial and political elite. These existential and cultural molesters of the young souls know how to use particularities of young age to get them to act according to the needs of their masters while keeping a happy consciousness of being individualistic, free and hedonistic in a consumerist and narcissistic sense. If such exceptional young people like Bruno and Veronica were with such an ease fooled by their bosses what kind of a destiny can we expect for the youth of 21st century, when the contrast in the competence between those who are open to the world and those who use others for their needs has become so much more acute than it was in the second part of the 20th century.

Today, the political and administrative organization of societal life is much more structured to keep the next generations under control while making them think that they are free. Godard’s Bruno and Veronica are the tragic prophecies of the post-democratic martyrdom of youth. This film stands together with Robert Bresson‘s “Mouchette” – 1967, and “Devil, Probably” – 1977, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Oedipus Rex” (1967) and “Salo” (1976), Liliana Cavani’s “I Cannibali/The Year of the Cannibals” (1970) and Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point” (1970) and “Blow Up” (1966).