Friday, January 27, 2023

2023 Blind Spot Series: La Chinoise


Based on the novel Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, La Chinoise, ou plutot a la Chinoise: un film en train de se faire (The Chinese, or rather, in the Chinese manner: a film in the making) is the story of five Maoist activists in Paris as they try to figure out their place in the world as well as hoping to change things through forms of terrorism. Written for the screen and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, the film is a political drama that explores a group of young people in their study of Maoism as a way to deal with the chaos of the world as the film marks a crucial trajectory for Godard in the films he would do later in the 1960s and in the 1970s. Starring Jean-Pierre Leaud, Anne Wiazemsky, Juliet Berto, and Michel Semeniako. La Chinoise is a provocative and riveting film from Jean-Luc Godard.

Set largely in a Parisian apartment during the course of the summer, the film revolves around five students from Parisian suburbs who have become Maoist activists as they try to figure out how to carry their ideals to the world with terrorism being a key suggestion. It is a film that explores a group of young people who are troubled by the state of their surroundings as they’ve been inspired by the actions of Communist China under the rule of Mao Zedong. It is a film with a straightforward narrative where Jean-Luc Godard uses the Dostoyevsky novel and set it in modern-day France during a tumultuous time of social disorder that would set the stage for the events of May of 1968. For these five people, they listen to Radio Peking and other Maoist propaganda in the hope they can achieve something in France but also deal with other factions relating to communism as they have different views. Even as the continuous studies and such would also create discord within the group about what to do.

Godard’s direction is stylish as it is set almost entirely in this apartment in Paris where there are five people who live there as they’re all idealists lead by the couple Guillaume (Jean-Pierre Leaud) and Veronique (Anne Wiazemsky) as they’re joined by the country girl Yvonne (Juliet Berto) and the student Henri (Michel Semeniako) as well as another figure known as Kirilov (Lex de Brujin) who would play a bigger role. Aside from a visitor in an African student in Omar (Omar Blondin Diop), the group remains isolated as Godard maintains an intimacy in the direction while also breaking the fourth wall at times to show a few crew members filming the actors. There are a lot of close-ups and medium shots that play into the intimacy such as the characters in a room that is filled with a lot of copies of the Little Red Book in the background as all of the characters carry a copy of that book with them. Godard does use some wide shots as there are shots of areas in France as well as parts of Paris that portrays a society that is being overtaken by ideas of the bourgeoisie which these students are opposed to.

The direction also has Godard create these moments where characters are carrying objects that transform into machine guns as well as make some commentary on the Vietnam War as well as their own opposition towards American foreign policy. Even as there are moments of Yvonne playing a Vietnamese woman being attacked by toy American jets to explain the chaos of the war as it also allude to their own disdain towards the Soviet Union’s idea of communism. By the time the film reaches its third act where members of the group diverge in ideals as the four principle characters do get a segment where they talk with Henri talking about what happened to him while a scene set in a train where Veronique talks about terrorism with political activist Francis Jeanson over his role in the Algerian war as he is troubled by Veronique’s views as it does play into the fallacies on revolutions. Overall, Godard crafts a compelling and gripping film about a group of political activists turning to terrorism to get their message through during a tumultuous time in France during the 1960s.

Cinematographer Raoul Coutard does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography in capturing the vibrancy of the color red throughout the film with many of its interior shots being straightforward yet colorful along with its exteriors in some of its greyer settings. Editors Delphine Desfons and Agnes Guillemot do excellent work with the editing with its stylish usage of jump-cuts and other stylish cuts to play into the film’s unconventional presentation but also for dramatic effect. Costume designer Gitt Magrini does fantastic work with the costumes from the sweaters that Guillaume wears to the war cap that Veronique would sometimes wear. The sound work of Rene Levert does superb work with the sound in capturing the natural elements of the sound on some locations but also in creating sound effects for some of the playful gunfire. The film’s music consist of original music by Michel Legrand and Karlheinz Stockhausen as well as classical pieces by Pierre Degeyter, Franz Schubert, and Antonio Vivaldi as the original is a mixture of pop and orchestral music to play into the events of the time including a song celebrating Mao while much of the classical music is played for dramatic effect.

The film’s incredible ensemble cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Jean-Claude Sussfeld as a getaway driver for a key scene late in the film, Omar Blondin Diop as a black-French student who appears to do a speech about his views on the world, Lex De Brujin as Kirilov as a student who doesn’t engage much in the discussions though he does have views of his own that supports the idea of terrorism, and Francis Jeanson as himself as the controversial political philosopher who is against Veronique’s views as well as wanting to use terrorism as he is someone who goes into the fallacies of his own actions in the Algerian war as well as the flaws of revolutions. Michel Semeniako is fantastic as Henri as a student who is a follower of the Maoist ideals but then starts to question things as he would later comment on his own future but also the faults of Maoism.

Juliet Berto is excellent as Yvonne as a young student from the country who is hoping to use Maoist to help with plight of workers as she also the lack of progress that occurs in revolutions. Jean-Pierre Leaud is amazing as Guillaume as a student who is eager to play a role in the revolution as he then starts to disagree with Veronique later on as he also copes with the lack of progress in revolutions. Finally, there’s Anne Wiazemsky in a phenomenal performance as Veronique as a young student who is a fervent follower of Mao and his ideals as she realizes what is necessary despite the many faults of her views as she also copes with the fallacies of revolutions.

La Chinoise is a tremendous film from Jean-Luc Godard. Featuring a great ensemble cast, vibrant visuals, a riveting music soundtrack, and its focus on political ideals and the chaos that it would predict. It is a film that isn’t just one of Godard’s finest films during the French New Wave period but also a film that says a lot about young people’s fascination with terrorism and other acts of violence for the sake of change with its many fallacies. In the end, La Chinoise is a spectacular film from Jean-Luc Godard.

Jean-Luc Godard Films: All the Boys are Called Patrick - Charlotte et son Jules - A Bout de Souffle - The Little Soldier - A Woman is a Woman - Vivre sa Vie - Les Carabiniers - Contempt - Bande a Part - A Married Woman - Alphaville - Pierrot Le Fou - Masculin Feminin - Made in U.S.A. - Two or Three Things I Know About Her - Weekend (1967 film) - Sympathy for the Devil (One Plus One) - (Joy of Learning) – (British Sounds) – Tout va Bien - (Letter to Jane) - (One A.M.) - (Number Two) - (Here and Elsewhere) - (Every Man for Himself) - (Passion) - (First Name: Carmen) - Hail, Mary - (Soft and Hard) - (Detective) - (King Lear (1987 film)) - (Keep Your Right Up) - (Nouvelle Vague) - (Allemagne 90 neuf zero) - (JLG/JLG - Self-Portrait in December) – For Ever Mozart - (Historie(s) de Cinema) - (In Praise of Love) - (Notre musique) - (Film Socialisme) - (Adieu au Language) – (The Image Book)

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