Jean-Luc Godard’s ferocious run of ground breaking 1960s commercial features neared a terminus point as the filmmaker turned his gaze onto the nascent left-wing student organisations coalescing on university campuses across France and environs. The resulting film was his searing masterpiece La Chinoise — a mordant satire, pedagogical treatise, political tract, and pop-artwork-“plus blood” rolled into one.
It’s early ’67 and Radio Peking’s in the air for the Aden Arabie Cell, a Maoist collective holed up in a sprawling flat on Paris’s rue de Miromesnil — the newly purchased actual residence of Godard and then-wife and star Anne Wiazemsky. Véronique (Wiazemsky) and her comrades, including Jean-Pierre Léaud (The 400 Blows, Out 1) and Juliet Berto (Out 1, Céline and Julie Go Boating) lead a series of discussions and performative skits addressing matters of French colonialism, American imperialism, and the broader conflict raging in Vietnam. A meditation on the efficacy of violent protest and militant counteraction played out between Wiazemsky (conducted by Godard via radio-earpiece), and her then-tutor philosopher Francis Jeanson gives way to a plot to assassinate the Soviet minister of culture — a red-handed point of no going-back on the path to complete radicalisation.
A tour-de-force of the primary-palette images — the ‘household images,’ perhaps — of Godard’s early career, La Chinoise serves as both cautionary tale and early sign of fascination with the political currents that would soon lead to the next period of JLG’s life and work. — “The revolution is not a dinner-party.”