It should go without saying that when Jean-Louis Trintignant props a large steel bazooka between himself and Romy Schneider, there’s more than one rocket he’s thinking of launching. Yet when this image comes early in Le combat dans l’île, it feels surprisingly chaste, flaccid and bloodless, a middlebrow symbol of transgression that fits in with the worst tendencies of this rediscovered film’s producer, Louis Malle.
Malle reportedly took on Le combat—with his former assistant, Alain Cavalier, directing—as a rebuke to the mostly right-wing Cahiers du cinéma crowd (Godard, Rohmer et al.), specifically their support of the French occupation of Algeria. Yet this early ’60s love triangle between an intense political extremist (Trintignant), his stir-crazy wife (Schneider) and a hunky pacifist printer (Serre) is less a potent work of dissidence than a childish schoolyard rivalry heavy on the “Nanny nanny poo poo!”
Le combat remains a watchable curio due to the three leads and the nouvelle vague gloss given to it by expert cinematographer Pierre Lhomme, but this only heightens the sense of disappointment when it becomes apparent that a wide gulf separates the genre machinations from the larger meanings. Ah, well. It sure looks purty.