Saturday, September 24, 2011

La Chinoise

(still from La Chinoise, dr. Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)

'60s Godard
is refreshing in this climate of mind-blowing political cupidity. I watched La Chinoise last night. I think I saw it once, a long time back. The little tidbits that come with a DVD were good too--particularly an interview with the film's leading actress, Anne Wiazemsky, who was Mr. Godard's femme of the moment. She revealed that the film was shot in Godard and her own digs, that she was always having to get everything tidied up early in case a scene might be set in one of the rooms, that it was particularly disconcerting at the time to have to do a scene with her film lover in which a fight she and Godard had had the night before was recreated, line by line. The film also features a wonderful long sequence in which her character discusses the idea of committing a terrorist act with her actual philosophy professor as they travel through France on a train, a discussion made more poignant by the fact that the professor himself was a supporter of the Algerian revolution, and had been tried for terrorism by the French government only a few years earlier. He, by the way, counsels vehemently against her plan of killing a few people to make a point and (she hopes) ignite a revolution. Eventually she ignores his good advice.

Ah youth. Which was part of Godard's point. As a film-maker, Godard succeeds wonderfully in this movie. I hope you'll rent it. It is a portrait of idealistic, confused, youth, of people who have lived very little but read a great deal, who are young, healthy, filled with possibility. Who think that all they need to do is find a small gold key, and the world will be changed. Who know there is a secret garden hiding just behind a tall hedge.

I also tried to watch the Battle of Algiers this past week. It was too sad to watch (for me), too relentless, too true. But when the professor on the train in La Chinoise mentions the revolution which is the subject matter of Battle of Algiers, I was a bit sorry I'd given up.

Of course we live in times when things have changed. On the one hand, a tiny group of young revolutionaries somehow managed to crash airliners into tall buildings and utterly change America. I would imagine that prior to the flights were countless hours of conversations similar to those shown in La Chinoise. Moreover, could any plan be more quixotic viewed in advance than the plan al Qaeda set in motion? Could anyone have imagined that the United States would now be very close to electing a muddled former cheerleader our next President, or that one of the two major parties would hold as a tenent of membership that well-proven scientific positions are a subject for serious doubt. Or that a sitting President could be accused of "class warfare" for suggesting modest tax increases on the top one percent of earners, in a context when the other party clamors for draconian cuts in government programs supported by huge majorities of voters in the name of deficit reduction--a problem which said tax increases would also address, at at far less pain to Americans. Yet "class warfare" surely resonates. Sacre bleu! (Oh wait--that description I just wrote could have been written in 1999. My bad.)

We weren't, of course, privy to the conversations within al Qaeda in the months and years leading up to 9/11/01, We could have, at any time, watched The Battle of Algiers. Or La Chinoise. We were instead too busy watching other things, and anyway, neither movie would have given us practical intelligence. Indeed, even our own more practical intelligence was brushed aside by the Administration of the day. "You've covered your asses," Mr. Bush said. "Now I need to get back out to clear more brush."

It's likely that the people who actually flew the planes on 9/11 were much like the people in Godard's movie. That's what we can know. Things evolved since the days of my youth. In those days suicide bombers were few and far between--bombers, that was a different deal. But even on this fine point, Godard sees deeply into the future, for there is a suicide in his movie, a suicide bomber once removed so to speak. And as I read in a review of La Chinoise, the movie is loosely based on Dostoyevsky's "The Possessed." That book was written in the 19th Century. And probably Lenin would have counseled its protagonists against revolutionary action on much the same grounds as the Algerian professor counsels his former student.

We humans have an ability to see abstract structures, including social and political structures. With this ability comes the perception that if it's built like so, and if you remove these particular supporting elements, why the whole thing might come crashing down. Moreover, with youth comes the notion that sometimes chaos yield a better future. Thus, some can yearn for a "Year Zero."
(Godard sees that, and inserts a brief scene to that point. Rossellini also explores the idea in Germany Year Zero, the companion to his more famous Rome: Open City.)

These days, it is the Right that so yearns. Here's a good piece by Mr. Edroso on the subject:

Today's my 50th high school reunion, and I'm going. I look forward to seeing a lot of people I haven't seen in 50 years. Back then we were all so young. None of us had even heard of the Battle of Algiers. Or Vietnam. I mention this because it certainly can be pointed out that I am hardly being objective, since I'm an old geezer who wants to keep getting his social security check. That is, USA: Year Zero will not be to my benefit, unless the local Padrone happens to like a fiddler at his beck and call. This is of course quite an unlikely possibility. Around here the folks who emerge after a year zero will probably be listening to Skynyrd.

Still. I used to have a pickup in the case, down under the rosin. That's insurance you can believe in.

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