Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Godard, Mao, and 1968

with 2 comments

by nems81

Not long after reading Wiz’s recent reflections on musicians trying to escape their boring, lonely, suburban lives by recording music that sympathized with the Lost Cause in the Civil War, I watched Jean Luc Godard’s 1967 film La Chinoise. Seeing the film’s main characters—middle class teenagers with absolutely no connection to the French working class—try to outdo each other in their devotion to Maoism somehow reminded me of Wiz’s post.

Ferris Bueller if he condoned isms.

Very loosely adapted from Dostoevsky’s book The Possessed, La Chinoise tells the story of a cell of teenage Maoists who spend their days debating the correct interpretation of the Little Red Book and the morality of terrorism. The would-be revolutionaries also listen to French broadcasts from Chinese radio, find creative ways to denounce American imperialism in Vietnam, and always manage to stay shabby chic. The movie seemed to anticipate the student uprisings that would shake France, and much of the world, only a few months later in 1968.

La Chinoise could have easily descended into a didactic bit of agitprop, but Godard gently mocks the revolutionary ardor of these bourgeois youth. He also highlights the irony of radical commitment in a world of mass consumption, juxtaposing quotations from the Little Red Book with images from Captain America.  The film also does a nice job showing the era’s generational conflict and the sometimes ridiculous earnestness of his leads. Guillaume, one of the principal characters, argues that, “We must be different from our parents. My father fought against the Germans and now he manages a Club Méditerranée, which is built along the same lines as a concentration camp.”

Still, for all his mild criticism, Godard sympathized with the political commitments of his characters (soon becoming a Maoist himself) and showed little understanding of what the actual Cultural Revolution was accomplishing. For Godard, as well as his characters, Chinese Communism filled a void left by the declining prestige of the Soviet Union (it took many French intellectuals longer to notice this decline than others) and provided the excitement of identifying with the “Third World Other” rather than the boring world of national politics.

Anyway, the real reason I bring up the movie is to play this trailer, which highlights the strange ways Maoism and pop culture could mix in the late 1960s:


Written by Julian Nemeth

March 29, 2010 at 17:02

2 Responses

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  1. That is the catchiest pro-Mao song I’ve ever heard…


    March 29, 2010 at 17:44

  2. […] my viewing adventures in French films about teenagers, last night I ended up watching the award-winning movie The Class. Unlike many schmaltzy Hollywood […]

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