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Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Chronicle of a Summer. Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin. On 27 May 2013 the BFI releases the hugely influential French documentary, newly restored, on Blu-ray and DVD (in a Dual Format Edition) for the first time in the UK

Marceline in Chronicle of a Summer,
1961. Courtesy of BFI

Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d'un été). Jean Rouch et Edgar Morin. 1961.

After A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) was released in 1959, filmmakers and critics such as Luc Moullet, Truffaut etc, referred to Jean-Luc Godard at the time as the 'Jean Rouch of contemporary France.'

France, 1960 = France and Algeria are at war. Albert Camus dies. JP Sartre writes Critique of Dialectical Reason. The 5th République has just been born with the comeback of Charles de Gaulle. The French Nouvelle Vague is surfing on worldwide waves. Crisis of accommodation. Alienation at work. The Yéyés are about to explode (French genre of music). The French colonies are becoming independent. France is getting ready for May 1968…
“Are you happy?” “How do you live?” Shot in Paris during the summer of 1960, Chronicle of a Summer is the compelling result of a collaboration between anthropologist filmmaker Jean Rouch (Moi, un noir, Les maîtres fous) and sociologist Edgar Morin. This cinéma-vérité film redefined the documentary form as it portrays samples of French society: an Italian immigrant, artists, factory workers, a future famous politician, French and African students, an Auschwitz survivor, etc.
At the time of its release in 1961, this new way of filming was revolutionary and adventurous: both in technique (16mm camera is lighter and can record sounds synchronically) and in aesthetic (handheld cameras) innovation while interviewing and observing spontaneously. Chronicle of a Summer is not only a search to extract some truth from its interviewees but is perhaps, little by little, a mean to unveil the masks that hide these individuals once they become more accustomed to the “game”.
We observe Angelo, a Renault worker, who uses his tiny garden as a boxing ring and who will later befriends Landry. Landry is a student from Abidjan who would like people to think of African people for other things rather than just their dancing movements. There are talks at a dinner table about “what would you do if you were sent to fight against Algeria” when everybody seems against that war. There is Marilu, the Italian immigrant, who lives in a chambre de bonne (ex-maid private room) because she can’t afford a better place with her Cahiers du Cinéma’s secretary salary. At first, she didn’t mind her condition in Paris, but after three years, we can feel she is deeply affected. The camera goes even closer to her face as to reveal the discomfort of her situation.
And there is Marceline (who became Joris Ivens’s wife years later) who makes Nadine hide behind her hands (hide from the camera) when she reveals the meaning of her tattoo. Marceline appears from the very first moment as a very strong and joyful woman. Marceline who made me stop the DVD player so I could watch the swans swimming by. Lucky me, I had a break… Marceline walks in Place de la Concorde and talks/remembers “… tu es jeune, tu reviendras (you are young, you will come back)” “I’ll never come back” “I came back and you didn’t” she is now walking in le Marché des Halles (destroyed since) “… when I saw you, you asked about Mum and Michel?... you called me your little girl” the camera moves away “… when I came back, I was hardened. It was hard… they kissed me. My heart was a stone.”
The next scene is Marceline dancing in a guinguette and the camera continues to interview the participants. Rouch and Morin invited their “guinea pigs” for the projection of Chronicle of a Summer at Le Musée de l’Homme in Paris. They were not greatly enthusiastic about how they saw themselves, but then again, no-one ever did what Rouch and Morin did. There is always room to improve, but also room for others to adapt. Chronicle of a Summer has aged pretty well and is unfortunately still so relevant and far too contemporary.
To those discovering Jean Rouch = he started filming communities in Africa in 1941. Rouch was also friend with Jean Cocteau, Pierre Schaeffer, etc. Morin asked Rouch in 1959-1960 if he knew anything about his own country and they started their concept on filming people’s feeling in the summer of 1960. The film was “called” un été pourri (a rotten summer)… Rouch was against and said “if there is no title, there is no film”.

The 75 mns documentary that accompanies the DVD is produced by Florence Dauman, daughter of Anatole who produced Chronicle of a Summer. Un été + 50 (a summer + 50 – released in France 50 years after the film’s release) is a reflection on the film. Out of the 20 hours shooting at the time, we discover new footages of the film and Edgar Morin, Marceline Loridan, Régis Debray etc, (Rouch died in 2004) comment on these unseen footages.

Jean Rouch in conversation @ the NFT in 1978 is a pure delight if you don’t mind a French accent, and English imperfections-but-perfectly understandable. He retraces the very beginning of cinema which was actually anthropological based and then Méliès films which were more dreams based. One was a scientific tool and one was an entertainment tool. He talks about his influences who were Vertov and Flaherty, and he also mentions Ivens. Those he influenced: Goddard, Truffaut, Rivette etc. He also talks about the evolutions of cameras, sound etc. Rouch is loquacious, passionate and the end of the conversation shows how he was probably very generous.

Below is a selective list of people around Rouch with some links. If this BFI’s release is a good occasion to (re)watch Jean Rouch œuvres, it is also an excellent opportunity to (re)watch Joris Ivens with whom Rouch was very good friend and who married Marceline Loridan Ivens. Stéphane Breton has developed “the man with a movie camera” and is probably more controversial than Rouch was and an equal excellent story teller as Rouch.

Info on DVD = the film is 90 mns. Special features include Un été + 50 (2011) a 75 mins documentary on the making of Chronicle of a Summer featuring new interviews with the participants including Edgar Morin and Régis Debray. In French with English subtitles. Jean Rouch at the NFT(1978) an audio recording (in English only) of a lecture delivered by Jean Rouch on Dziga Vertov and Robert Flaherty’s influence on his work and that of his peers. The accompanying booklet features a newly commissioned essay by Ginette Vincendeau, Professor of Film Studies @ King’s College, London.


Xtra info around Jean Rouch =
Jean Rouch International Film Festival (in French and English) = http://comitedufilmethnographique.com/inscription-entry-form/
Marceline Loridan Ivens, actress in Chronicle of a Summer on France Inter, 3 May 2013 (in French) = http://www.franceinter.fr/emission-le-grand-entretien-marceline-loridan-ivens-55
Joris Ivens Foundation (in Dutch and English) = http://www.ivens.nl/welkom.asp


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