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La Chinoise

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 the Chinese?"

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 to you."

"It's not only that it's hateful to us," she answers, "but it's bad."

San Francisco Chronicle March 7, 1968

 

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