Chinoise, La (1967)

“One must replace vague ideas with clear images.”

Synopsis:
A group of French university students — Veronique (Anne Wiazemsky), Guillaume (Jean-Pierre Leaud), Yvonne (Juliet Berto), Henri (Michel Semeniako), and Kirilov (Lex De Bruijn) — share a bourgeois apartment over the summer while studying Maoism and planning terrorist revolt.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, La Chinoise may well be “one of Jean-Luc Godard’s most interesting political works”. He infuses the seemingly dry subject matter with stunningly stylized visuals (every shot is strategically framed, and primary colors literally pop off of the screen), and treats his characters with both respect and irony, making it clear how troubled their idealistic yet naive ideology really is. Indeed, since the act of violent terrorism carried out near the end of the film is treated so casually, it’s literally impossible to take these students’ actions too seriously. Unfortunately, the last ten minutes or so of the film — in which we’re inexplicably introduced to new characters — dilute the finale; but given Godard’s penchant for illogical narrative sequencing (he once famously said, “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order”), this is perhaps to be expected.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A unique glimpse at young revolutionaries avidly pursuing knowledge about Maoism
    Chinoise Studying
  • Leaud demonstrating a theatrical technique used by a Maoist to make a political point
    Chinoise Wrap
  • Stark, close-up framing, often with Chinese posters in the background
    Chinoise Posters
  • Creative use of vivid, contrasting primary colors as backdrops
    Chinoise Colors
  • An effective juxtaposition of words and visuals to relate a particular time and attitude
    Chinoise Words
  • Many memorable images
    Chinoise Memorable
  • Typically Godardian mise-en-scene and an “interrupted”, disorienting musical score

Must See?
Yes. While a little of Godard goes a long way, I think all film fanatics should watch this tongue-in-cheek political fable.

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2 Responses to “Chinoise, La (1967)”

  1. If you’re asking me (not that you did), not a must.

    When I was a younger ff, I dutifully absorbed the works of the giants of world cinema, and much of it was (and remains) thrilling indeed. Foreign cinema of the ’50s~’70s esp. is, indeed, a treasure-trove.

    As a film lover, however, Godard eluded me. Did I not “get” him? Was I not “smart enough”? Occasionally he made something that challenged yet allowed me some semblance of a comfort zone as a viewer. (I’m thinking, for some reason, of ‘Contempt’, or ‘Weekend’.) But, usually not.

    Revisiting him tends to lean heavily toward cinematic torture. ‘La Chinoise’ is a case in point: it’s not just the bombardment of images, and/or the more intense bombardment of ideological language (via the bombardment of subtitles)…it’s the sense that I’m watching the equivalent of a Pollock painting in motion, or an intellectual Andy Warhol flick – neither which I find satisfying. To me, how he went about making this film is a roadblock to the film itself.

    To make matters worse is the use here of Jean-Pierre Leaud – so promising in ‘The 400 Blows’; as an adult, so limited in range.

    I simply could not get through this film as I am now.

    So what does this mean? Ya got me. In one of my former favorite video store haunts in Greenwich Village, the sign for the Godard section said “God”. So, let’s say he has his fans. But I generally find him among the most irritating of filmmakers. To him that could very well be the point: a cinema of anarchy. Fine. I find it more off-putting than necessary for a film experience.

    “A little of Godard goes a long way…” Amen to that!

    Let’s see how I feel as I revisit his other films, shall we?

  2. Yes – definitely a must see. This film has life and explodes on the screen.

    It isn’t my favorite Godard, but it is one of the best of his political films.

    When I got my first Film Fanatic copy in the 80’s I was a 22 year old single guy with a full life ahead of himself. For me, it was about movies, music, a little political activism (mainly, actively protesting my university to divest from South Africa), and sports.

    Peary’s book spoke to me, and one of his lines in his introduction spoke to me – paraphrasing, seeking out all types of films is half the fun. I learned to love westerns. I got into older films. I already enjoyed some foreign films – Kurosawa, Bergman and Truffaut spoke to me, and I quickly expanded outward into all directions.

    Jean-Luc Godard isn’t for everyone, and his more accessible films are still not too accessible (Breathless, Contempt, Weekend). I still have a few to watch (some are currently expiring on the Criterion Channel, and Kanopy has some). My favorite (besides the threesome I just mentioned) may be Vivre sa vie (My Life to Live). Still, La Chinoise engrossed me from beginning to end, and in some cases it gave me chills in its creativity.

    As for Jean-Pierre Leaud – I really don’t think his Godard roles are meant to show much range. Does he have acting chops? Not sure, I’m more of a director guy. Also, I sometimes have trouble translating foreign language acting as a primary Enlgish speaking. I certainly have liked him in the other Antoine films by Truffaut (as well as Day for Night), and I liked him in “Mother and a Whore” and “Last Tango in Paris.” Finally, he had a brief cameo in “What Time Is It There?” by Taiwan director Tsai Ming-liang. He plays a man at a cemetery (himself) that the lead character of the movie runs into. She has a brief poignant discussion with him, and rumor has it he was by Truffaut’s grave. His performance in 400 Blows spoke to me, so I get he hasn’t matched that, and perhaps I’m giving him the benefit of a doubt. I still love seeing him on screen.

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