For those of us who still think of Jean-Pierre Léaud as we first saw him, on library shelves in films directed by François Truffaut, La Chinoise is a gentle appeal. Without Jean-Luc Godard, would Olivier Assayas have still cast Léaud to drink from a comically oversized three-liter Coke bottle in Irma Vep? Would Tsai Ming-liang, his love for The 400 Blows intact, insist on Léaud’s large overcoat in What Time Is It There?, or on the physical gesture of a phone number passed on a piece of paper?
Léaud, with his easy exasperations, reacts. He asserts his nervousness instead of hiding it; his hands indicate an ongoing, unguarded surprise with his own disruptive emotions. Truffaut increasingly scaled the performances back, but Godard, like Luc Moullet with A Girl Is a Gun, egged Léaud on. With each new season, an old Godard film makes it back into circulation. La Chinoise should be ubiquitous. It anticipates not just the student riots in 1968 Paris but also the greatest in DVD supplements, the archived audition. Click here to read Nathan Kosub on Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise, opening this week in a new print at New York’s Film Forum.