A group of revolution-minded students hole up in a shabby Parisian apartment to devour the works of Mao and plot future acts of terrorism. Why, yes, this is a movie by Jean-Luc Godard. Although Godard’s work can sometimes seem dauntingly opaque, this newly restored 1967 film (loosely based on Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed) may be one of the best gateways into his distinct world, featuring some devastatingly acerbic satire, ingenious smash cuts to a vast array of mixed media, and deadpan one-liners that somehow hang around and accumulate mass. (A female student’s response to whether she supports book burning is just lemon-bitingly tart.)
Time and copycats may have taken some of the novelty out of Godard’s style, but it’s still easy to be wowed by La Chinoise’s mastery of ideological back-and-forth (the conversation on a train between a student and an initially sympathetic older activist is a small rhetorical marvel), as well as the pinwheeling sense of invention that constantly threatens to burst the constraints of the frame. Even during its most baffling moments—I’m still trying to parse the guy in a tiger mask firing a plastic bazooka—you can feel someone cranking the key on a brand new engine.
For more information on this terrorific French classic, see Movie Times.