Pronouns in La Chinoise.

I just watched Godard’s 1966 La Chinoise, which is shockingly underappreciated; a film-studies guy who has done a number of Godard retrospectives says it’s the only one of his famous ’60s movies that never sells out. Obviously the reason is that it focuses on Marxism-Leninism — or, to quote someone who recently complained about it to me, “a bunch of self-important, privileged Parisian twits playing at politics” — but that’s like rejecting Moby-Dick because it’s about whaling. It’s absolutely gorgeous and frequently funny, and any lover of Godard should see it; Craig Fischer has a long and thoughtful take from 2011 that will provide some useful approaches.

But this is not a movie blog, and what induced me to blog about it is a remark by Michel Semeniako (who played Henri, the guy kicked out of the group for being “revisionist”) in an interview included on the Kino DVD. He said Godard addressed them as tu when they were engaged in shooting the movie, though he used vous when they met elsewhere — it was part of the intimacy of the workplace. I thought that was an interesting wrinkle. (It’s also interesting that Godard had Anne Wiazemsky, in her role as the intransigent Maoist Véronique, use lines in her dialogues with her onscreen lover Jean-Pierre Léaud that she had previously used with Godard, her lover in real life; understandably, it made her uncomfortable. But it goes with his general Brechtian insistence that actors should quote, not emote.)

We’ve discussed tu and vous a number of times, e.g. in 2012 (“Today, French people in their 20s hardly ever use vous”) and last year (“Je dis vous à ma mère et vous à ma femme”).


  1. I’ve never seen mère spelled mêre.

  2. Whoops, how did I miss that? Thanks, I fixed it in both places.

  3. I just read about Simenon’s Maigret’s Memoirs, in which his creation Jules Maigret confronts him thus: “Do you know that with the course of time you’ve begun to walk and smoke your pipe and even to speak like your Maigret?” I wondered whether in the original, Les Mémoires de Maigret (1950), he used tu or vous; happily, I was able to find the quote: “Savez-vous qu’avec les années vous vous êtes mis à marcher, à fumer votre pipe, voire à parler comme votre Maigret ?” I suppose it is natural that one is polite with one’s creator.

  4. David Marjanović says

    Well, they’re both Serious Adults and not best buddies, so they don’t really have a choice.

  5. I had no idea Maigret had a first name. Jules, huh.

  6. When I worked at a French multinational company in the previous decade, the company culture seemed to be to use tu between everyone. I understand that this depends on the organization, but I think this certainly isn’t rare. I suspect that it could be a conscious choice to counter some of the negative effects of corporate hierarchies.

  7. I watched Raoul Coutard, Godard’s regular cinematographer, being interviewed by Colin MacCabe in French, and was mildly astonished that MacCabe used tu with him. I kept thinking “Are you really best buddies?” It was distracting.

  8. David Marjanović says

    I suspect that it could be a conscious choice to counter some of the negative effects of corporate hierarchies.

    Certainly, and I’m not very surprised to find that last decade. In 1950 it was probably literally unthinkable.

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