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Vancouver Unconventional Books Message Board › "Demons" & "La Chinoise"

"Demons" & "La Chinoise"

A former member
Post #: 45
If you feel so inclined, I recommend having a look at Jean-Luc Godard's 1967 film La Chinoise, as it is loosely based on Dostoevsky's Demons. (I saw La Chinoise when it was shown at the Pacific Cinematheque some years ago.)

Whereas Dostoevsky's novel concerned a small network of young radicals plotting the revolutionary overthrow of the Czarist regime and the downfall of the Orthodox Church in 1860s Russia, La Chinoise is about a radical Maoist cell comprised of five young university students plotting the overthrow of the Gaullist republic and the global capitalist system (i.e., "Yankee imperialism") in 1960s France.

Among other things, the film is notable for the how astutely Godard seemed to anticipate the events of May-June 1968 in Paris about one year before they actually happened, just as Dostoevsky seemed to anticipate the effects of the October 1917 revolution about 45 years before the fact.

La Chinoise also features a character named Kirilov who, as in Dostoevsky, goes off his head and commits suicide for existential reasons after falsely confessing to a political assassination that the cell plans to carry out.

The film concludes with the bungled assassination: the Pyotr Verkhovensky figure, Véronique, ends up going to the wrong hotel room and killing the wrong man -- not Mikhail Sholokhov, the visiting Soviet cultural ambassador, as she had intended.

The real-life philosopher Francis Jeanson (who had once led a network of anti-colonialist French communist militants, the notorious Réseau Jeanson, that acted on behalf of the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale in the late 1950s) corresponds to the character of the aging intellectual dilettante Stepan Trofimovich.

Jeanson meets Véronique during a train ride from Paris to Nanterre. During their journey, they engage in a philosophical dialogue about politics. Echoing Henri (the Ivan Shatov figure within the cell), Jeanson argues against the use of violence as a means to achieving revolutionary aims.

Like Stepan in Demons -- whose youthful involvement in the 1840s anti-Czarist Zapadnichestvo inspires his own radical son, Pyotr, as well as his student, the eccentric aristocrat Nikolai Stavrogin, twenty years later -- Francis Jeanson's early anti-colonialist activism in French-occupied Algeria had a similarly dubious influence on the younger generation of aspirant political radicals in mid-1960s Nanterre.

Jeanson was also the philosophy tutor of Nanterre student (and budding Maoist) Anne Wiazemsky, who plays Véronique in La Chinoise and subsequently became Godard's second wife (after he divorced Anna Karina).

A year later, Anne Wiazemsky appeared in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Teorema, where she played the daughter of the bourgeois Milanese family who becomes catatonic after being abandoned by the mysterious Christ-like Terence Stamp character. In 1969, Pasolini cast Wiazemsky (and fellow La Chinoise actor, Jean-Pierre Léaud) in a similarly themed post-soixante-huitard "Fathers and Sons" parable, Porcile.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia article of La Chinoise: http://en.wikipedia.o...­

Here is the trailer for the film featuring the catchy Claude Channes theme song "Mao Mao": http://www.youtube.co...­

Here is the scene from the film when one of the young students in the Maoist cell, Henri (corresponding to the character of Ivan Shatov in the book), is denounced by the others as "révisionniste" for his more moderate pacifist views: http://www.youtube.co...­
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