Jean-Luc Godard | 1967 | 96 minutes | France
Jean-Luc Godard’s visually lush film about a small group of Maoist students in France was incredibly prescient. Made in politically tense mid-60s France, just before the events of May 1968, the film in retrospect serves as a great commentary on that turbulent time.
One thing about Marxist-Leninists that hasn’t changed since the ‘60s is that they’re generally a bunch of self-righteous bores. Godard’s Marxist disposition, which was only starting to become explicitly public at this point in this career, thankfully didn’t stop him from creating a wonderfully critical film which elevates the ideas while poking fun at their fervent adherents.
A loose collection of Maoist monologues (didactic to the point of self-mockery) are tied together with the pop-art-y visuals and bold primary coloured sets that make great use of stacks of Mao’s little red books. Jean-Pierre Léaud and Anne Wiazemsky are delightful as Guillaume and Veronique, both absolutely nailing the inexperienced idealism of the generation’s young, and of course, bourgeois, university students.
As the film progresses, the students’ discussions grow closer to the inevitable conclusion that violence will shake things up and start the revolution they yearn for. Unfortunately, their plans for revolutionary action are as ill conceived and naïve as one might expect, and at the film’s conclusion we see that the only changes that have been affected are in the students’ own disillusion. Clearly, Godard was commenting on the politics of the time more than expressing his personal political views, and more than being a film about Marxism, La Chinoise is an affectionate and incisive study of the naïveté of youth.