An acquaintance once told me he couldn’t see the point of Masculin féminin, Jean-Luc Godard’s 1966 film about the “children of Marx and Coca-Cola.” I told him that the director had been waging a guerilla war against the American empire by means of cinema; that thanks to Walt Disney and LBJ, the choice was between capitulation and revolution, and Godard had taken the side of the devils — or at least Ho Chi Minh. Yes, this acquaintance said, but what was the point?
Completed a year after the B&W Masculin féminin, La Chinoise is, as one reviewer put it, the “color sequel.” And for those who don’t have to ask what the point is, La Chinoise represents a last idealistic salvo before a disillusioned Godard retreated to the apocalyptic doom of Weekend, One Plus One, and Tout va bien.
School’s out for summer. Four undergraduates/would-be insurgents — including Anne Wiazemsky (the second Mrs. Godard) and Jean-Pierre Léaud — stockpile copies of Mao’s little red book in their bohemian flat. They paint the walls, chainsmoke, debate Althusser on Brecht, and generally prepare for the day when they’ll get to bomb something really big. Six years later, nouvelle vague icon Léaud would embody the New Left’s defeat as the nihilist Alexandre in Jean Eustache’s La maman et la putain. But here Léaud is still the dialectical man’s celluloid hero.
“Vague ideas must be confronted with clear images,” goes one of the cell’s slogans. La Chinoise was originally released in New York in the spring of 1968, just weeks before Columbia students took over their campus and two-thirds of France’s workers went on strike. To them, Godard’s point couldn’t have been more obvious.