Coincidentally, the movie which ranks in at number 15 is also the movie that will challenge the casual viewer the most. La Chinoise is a 1967 film by the famous (and infamous) French New-Wave auteur Jean-Luc Godard. The film is often thought of as the start of Godard’s “Cinema Year Zero” approach, meaning that he began to throw out the conventions of plot and character development in favor of making films constructed around big ideas and beautiful shots. In one scene, the words “Cinema Year Zero” are graffitied on a wall in the background.
The story, for the first 2/3 of the picture, is practically non-existent. A group of bored petit-bourgeoise suburbanites decide to renounce their lifestyles and live together in one of their parents’ summer homes that they refashion into a makeshift commune. Once there, they spend each day reading about marxism, reciting marxism, and breathing marxism. So much of the film involves the characters simply sitting and talking about famous historical figures like Stalin, Robespierre, and Chairman Mao (which explains why the title translates to The Chinese).
At first, this will likely strike you as propagandistic, and some of it is. What makes it interesting though is how Godard, himself a serious marxist, uses the film not to sing the praises of marxism but to actually criticize many aspects of the movement. As you watch the movie, you’ll start to see how these characters are not as high-minded as their ideals. As scenes pass by, entropy has an increasingly profound effect, as you will watch as each character stoops to folly in some way.
It’s interesting to me to see a director challenge and confront their own beliefs. To give an example from the opposite end of the spectrum, think of John Ford and John Wayne’s colloborations. They were both about as far right and conservative as you can get, but together they quite unabashedly critiqued self-righteous authority figures (Fort Apache) and the American empire itself (The Searchers). The artists’ ability to question their own beliefs is often what saves them from empty propagandism.
La Chinoise stars Jean-Pierre Leaud, a young actor who would frequently colloborate with Godard as well as Francois Truffaut. It also features Godard’s inventive use of color: red, white and blue are frequently repeated (the colors of France’s flag), and the summer house they live in is painted in these colors. All of the characters, for the most part, dress in solid color pastel shirts. It’s refreshing to see a movie where color is taken into real consideration.
Also, this movie features a famous scene that protests the Vietnam War.
If you do manage to sit through this one, take solace in knowing the rest of the list will be easier to watch. If you do enjoy the movie, then I’d also recommend Alphaville and Pierrot Le Fou.
To see my #14 pick, click here.
To read the introduction to the Top 15 Classic European films list, click here.
To learn more about La Chinoise with Imdb, click here.
To watch a good trailer for the film on youtube, click here (not for minors).