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. Again, it was Truffaut who spliced Léaud’s tryout for The 400 Blows—an improvised question-and-answer—into the final cut. But where Truffaut courted naturalism through the unrehearsed scene, La Chinoise solicits the fleet-footed mechanics of invention. Léaud plays Guillaume, a student and Maoist, who pontificates at length, but only sometimes as Guillaume. Sometimes he is Jean-Pierre, sometimes he addresses his classmates, and sometimes he laughs at the crowd. If the audience is not us, it is Godard, who we hear, or maybe Raoul Coutard, the cameraman, who we see behind his camera. Click here to read the rest of Nathan Kosub’s article on La Chinoise.