Jean-Luc Godard

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Richard Schickel

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Godard's vision of [the young Maoists in La Chinoise (The Chinese Girl)] is persuasively realistic. And chilling.

And comic. What always saves Godard's work for me is his superb sense of irony. His sympathetic fascination with the outsiders who always people his films rarely deteriorates into sentimentality. Quite the contrary—they are absurd creatures. In La Chinoise, for instance, adolescent inattention and ineptitude keep undercutting everyone's revolutionary fervor, as do the sexual crosscurrents which keep swirling about. And when these humorless idealists move from talk to action, things fall still further apart. They carefully plan an assassination and, of course, gun down the wrong man, then must go back and get the right one. Their bungling perhaps reads as a comment on the futility of revolution, the fact that they go unpunished for their crimes a comment on the impotence and fatuity of the adult world that has driven them to this desperate expedient. Godard's attitude is summed up with admirable economy in the film's throwaway ending…. (pp. 172-73)

In outline, I am afraid the picture sounds simpler, more straight-forward than it really is. Indeed, what I have set down is only my interpretation of Godard's intentions. He hates to cue audience response to scenes and characters, hates to be in the position of begging them for approval. Working in the most seductive of the arts, he has therefore developed a carefully unseductive style—distant, elliptical, severely objective in its visualizations, arhythmic in its editing method…. Which accounts for the sequence that has by now become his trademark—a long excruciating scene where his normally restless camera sits on its haunches and peers like an unblinking cat at some endless discussion (in La Chinoise it is between a girl and a philosopher) that anyone else would cut out of the script without bothering to shoot it at all.

He is, in short, all the things his detractors say he is—pretentious, sophomoric, self-indulgent. But he is also all the things his supporters claim he is—a director who succeeds in capturing and bringing back alive some of the shyest, most skittish social and psychological demons of our time. (p. 173)

Richard Schickel, "'La Chinoise'" (originally published in a slightly different form in Life, Vol. 64, No. 15, April 12, 1968), in his Second Sight: Notes on Some Movies, 1965–1970 (copyright © 1972 by, Richard Schickel; reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, a Division of Gulf & Western Corporation), Simon & Schuster, 1972, pp. 171-74.

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