THE MOVIE Though Jean-Luc Godard, the French New Wave's most politically elusive filmmaker, had tackled the fog of the 1960s before, only with 1967's La Chinoise did he plunge headlong into radicalization, an ornery intellectual, aesthetic, and structural temperament that would define his next decade of filmmaking. And in his 13th feature since 1960's Breathless, he crafted a movie that has dated faster than the Eugene McCarthy presidential campaign but also remains a vital, prescient, and thought-provoking examination of political action.
During the summer of 1967 a quintet of students--banker's daughter Veronique (Anne Wiazemsky) and her actor boyfriend, Guillaume (Jean-Pierre Léaud), sometimes prostitute Yvonne (Juliet Berto) and her Communist Party boyfriend, Henri (Michel Semeniako), and Kirilov (Lex De Bruijn)--hole up in Veronique's parents' Paris apartment. Exasperated with Soviet communism, they look east to China and Mao Zedong, surrounding themselves--quite literally--with Mao's little red book and stirred by the launch of his Cultural Revolution the year before. They're impassioned minds looking for something on which to hang their--What, really? Energy? Beliefs? Righteousness? Future? Lives--and spend their days among the somewhat like-minded, disavowing the United States' imperialism in Vietnam, castigating France's own bourgeois state, and looking for something upon which to take aim.
That that aim eventually becomes violent is La Chinoise's lasting potency. Aside from anticipating the student revolts of 1968--and the small factions of Leftism's armed 1970s militancy--the movie dissects the very nature of political radicalization, the whys and wherefores of youthful exuberance, and the frailty of an impudent need to fight something. Every decision in every frame--from the somewhat sloppily painted walls to the slogans to the books to the coverage shots of magazine cutouts and artificial staging--participates in the constant textual and visual warfare between cultural artifacts and rhetoric in the movie. That it never quite articulates anything is part of the point: Even today, La Chinoise vibrates with its clash of messy intelligence, busy formalism, pop-art shallowness, and semiotic improvisation, a visual essay rife with sensual (anti)-pleasures.
THE DISC This Koch Lorber product is the first North American DVD release of movie, and the print looks gorgeous (this is one of those movies that used to get passed around on dodgy ninth-generation video copies), even if the extras are limited. The DVD comes with a 1980s interview with Wiazemsky, expectedly hard-lined words from Godard in newsreel footage from the 1967 Venice Film Festival (where the movie won a Special Jury Prize), an expectedly obdurate interview with Godard at the editing table, an introduction to the movie from British cultural critic Colin MacCabe (sadly, no relation), and a delightful, mirthfully anarchistic trailer to the movie, scored to Claudes Channes' "Mao Mao." And me I wiggle Mao Mao.