It is not possible to do justice to Jean-Luc Godard's "La
Chinoise" after only one showing; it may not
be possible to sit through it twice; and even if
it were subjected to the most astute and piercing
analysis, I don't know if it would be worth the trouble.
The film is at once confusing, infuriating, brilliant
and boring as only a prolonged reading citing chapter
and verse of Marxism-Maoism can be.
Ostensibly the film is "about" five very
young, bourgeois men and women in a pro-Maoist Communist
cell in Paris; they are fighting against Russian "revisionism."
The characters quote interminably from Marx, Lenin,
Stalin, Bukharin and Mao, Mao, Mao. (There's even
a rock song "It's the little red book which
makes everything work; read Mao, Mao, Mao." This
film should make his royalties jump.)
Even the friends I had counted on for dialectical
support fell asleep.But these endless quotations
are smashed into brilliantly — and obscurely, with
everything from comic strips, Sgt. Fury and Capt.
America Superman, photos of Malraux and Malcolm X,
Mao over a kitchen sink and Alice in Wonderland asking: "What
made me discover "Marxism-Leninism?"
There's a drama enacting the tragedy of Vietnam
with President Johnson wearing the head mask of a
paper tiger. His telephone conversation with Kosygin
demonstrates that there are two kinds of Communism,
one to shake hands with in Europe and one to fight
in Asia. Meanwhile the Vietnamese girl (Yvonne, a
French country girl) in a scene shot completely in
red, shoots tackatackata from behind a barricade
of Mao's little red books, and bleeding, cries "Hurry
up, Mr. Kosygin."
One character comments about another, "She
is confusing Marxism and theater," but "art
is not a reflection of reality but the reality of
reflection." An actor named Guillaume Meister,
winds bandages around his face to show what happened
to demonstrating protesting Chinese students in Moscow
who were clubbed by Russian police. When he unwinds
the bandages, there are no wounds at all. "What
are those Chinese, comedians?" "We must
be different from our parents," says the actor
whose father worked in Artaud's Theater of Cruelty." "My
father fought against the Germans and now he manages
a Club Mediterranee which is built along the same
lines as a concentration camp."
A girl is completely shrouded in black, only her
legs showing. Her voice asks: "Why are you looking
at me like the whites in America look at the blacks
or the Arabs look at the Jews or vice versa and in
the Communist world, the way the Russians look at
Godard borrows liberally from Mao ( I learned from
Mark Woodcock who did the subtitles) even for some
of the dramatic dialogue. "Where do 'correct'
ideas come from?" The cell members argue. "They
fall from the sky," answers Yvonne who admits
she also works as a prostitute when Henri can't sell
his Red Guard papers. "I know it's a contradiction," she
says sweetly and solemnly, "I'm a living proof
of the correct handling of contradictions."
Veronique, a philosophy student, and daughter of
a banker, is finally driven by some senseless "revolutionary" impulse
toward terrorism, to murder the visiting Russian
"minister of culture" who just happens to be
named Sholokov. Murdering the wrong man because she
has misread his room number, she cries, "Merde!" and
goes back to murder again. At the end of the film,
her voice says, "Ok, it's fiction but it has
brought me closer to reality. I've only made the
first step on a very long march." "End
of beginning" declares the last sub-title.
Godard, in an interview in France, said the two
girls were presented "sympathetically, even
tenderly" and that from them, one has to draw the
film's conclusion — the conclusion that is also Chou-en
Lai's — that they have not made the great leap forward,
simply that the Cultural Revolution is no more than
a first step ten thousand times longer than the first." He
concludes that Veronique, played by Anna Wiazemsky,
Godard's wife and granddaughter of Francois Mauriac,
tells Francis Jeanson (who is, in real life, her
philosophy teacher) about her desire to close down
the university as the Red Guards did in China since
universities are "instruments of class culture." She
wants to bomb the university, kill a few students
and scare others.
"I think the only thing you know," Jeanson
responds, "is that the present system is hateful
"It's not only that it's hateful to us," she
answers, "but it's bad."
San Francisco Chronicle March 7, 1968