In his 1967 film La Chinoise, Jean-Luc Godard happily displays all of his vices and virtues. As for defining what his vices and virtues are, it all depends whether you love or loathe his work.
This go-round is a non-stop series of fervent monologues and elliptical dialogue from would-be Maoist revolutionaries who talk about revolution in their bourgeois parents’ spacious apartment during a break from college studies could be seen as a droll parody of what was a current flirtation among many young leftists with the Chinese brand of Communism.
The film has rich sight gags, including book cases filled with multiple copies of Mao’s "Little Red Book," and it has rich eye candy with lovely young Anne Wiazemsky and Juliet Berto pouting as boyish Jean-Pierre Leaud blows smoke between pauses of Marxist ranting. And being a Godard film, there is the inevitable eccentric dismissal of the filmmaking process, complete with a cameo appearance by the cinematographer and his massive 35mm camera.
The characters’ embrace of Communism in general and Maoist philosophy in particular badly dates the movie, but at least the political diatribes have more coherence and eloquence than Godard’s later wading into Red waters. In France, at least, it had some impact on shaping the political courage of the college students who shook the nation in the violent street protests of May 1968.
Today, it is strictly of curio value for anyone with a taste for political cinema. It’s not a boring film, to be certain, but for those who don’t worship at Godard’s canon (this writer included), it can be an artsy, tiresome piece of agitprop that wears out its welcome fairly quickly. But Godard addicts will certainly enjoy this title, so perhaps it is best to leave this strictly for their entertainment.
Classic interview with Godard, Venice Film Festival newsreel footage, interview with Anne Wiazemsky, introduction by film historian Colin MacCabe.