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May 11 - 19

Godard, Gorin, Garrel and the Grin Without a Cat

“May ’68” has become shorthand for referring to the extraordinary concatenation of student rebellion and workers’ strikes that shook France during that spring month forty years ago, ultimately bringing down de Gaulle but falling well short of the more revolutionary and utopian hopes expressed during the strikes. 1968 was also, of course, a year of unrest worldwide, with antiwar fervor, student movements and backlashes against these uprisings all happening at once. French cinema was a significant part of the movement for change. Indeed many have suggested that the Paris unrest was sparked by protests over Henri Langlois’ abrupt removal from the Cinémathèque française by de Gaulle’s government. To signal their protest, on May 19, at the height of the strikes, Godard and Truffaut led the group of filmmakers that shut down the 1968 Cannes Film Festival. 

The meaning of the events of May ’68, their origins and their consequences, have long been subjects for discussion in France, and hence for French cinema. Mirroring in some ways the uprising’s diverse roots in syndicalism, student politics, the New Left, anarchism, Situationism, anti-colonialism and Maoism, the events’ influence on French film has ranged from free-form experimentation to structuralist filmmaking to Marxist agit-prop to workers’ documentaries and newsreels to nostalgia. 

For Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), the 1960s was a long decade of investigation into modes of cinema ranging from the B-movie madness of Breathless to the big-budget Contempt to the avant-garde aesthetics and guerilla filmmaking of La Chinoise and Weekend. After the events of 1968, Godard rejected narrative illusion for several years, to concentrate instead on a string of films that combine documentary, formal innovation and radical politics.  Jean-Pierre Gorin (b. 1943), twelve years younger than Godard, already had a career as a journalist and critic when the two began collaborating.  Together the pair formed the nucleus of a collective they dubbed “Groupe Dziga-Vertov,” after the Russian avant-garde filmmaker who sought to document all aspects of life in the young Soviet Union in a celebration of modernism, futurism and Bolshevism. The films of the Dziga-Vertov Group include a wide-range of experimentation that includes radical anti-narratives and documentaries of pop culture and the Palestinian struggle, and culminates in the Brechtian Tout va bien, starring none other than Jane Fonda. The failure of both critics and defenders of the Dziga-Vertov Group films to see the work as aesthetic—as well as political—interventions has been a source of deep frustration for the radical films’ makers.

This series extends its focus beyond Godard and the Dziga Vertov Group to include two additional French filmmakers on whom the tumultuous times also had a profound impact. Chris Marker (b. 1921), the iconic artist often regarded as the father of the cinematic essay form, looks back at both the revolutionary politics of the 1960s and the long period of reaction that followed in his far-reaching documentary A Grin Without a Cat.  The youngest director whose work is included in this program, Philippe Garrel (b. 1948) experienced May ’68 not just as a historic moment but as a defining experience, as his films illustrate. Le Lit de la vierge, made in the wake of the strike, replays the events as a religious ritual, while J’entends plus la guitare depicts the disillusionment that struck years later. Finally, with Regular Lovers, Garrel recreates the conflicts and disturbances of forty years ago, giving them an almost epic sweep. Together, these three films make a kind of May ’68 trilogy, drawing an arc from revolutionary and aesthetic fervor to despair to remembrance.

This program is presented with assistance from the Consulate of France, Boston. Special thanks to: François Gauthier, Brigitte Bouvier, Eric Jausseran, and French Cultural Services; Michael Chaiken; Jake Perlin, Film Desk.

Sunday May 11 at 7pm

Un Film comme les autres

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
France 1968, video, b/w and color, 120 min.
French with English subtitles

Pre-dating the formation of the Dziga-Vertov group, Un Film comme les autres is Godard’s final film as an individual director before beginning collaborative projects in 1969. The film’s two part structure, which documents a group of students and workers discussing the objectives of the May revolt and the events themselves, experiments with documentary form and the relationship between image and sound in an attempt to engage the viewer in active participation.  Godard has said that with the film, “I saw the job to be done, and that I had the possibility of doing this job only with the help of the masses. For me this was a major advancement. You can't do it as an individual. You can't do it alone, even if you are an advanced element of the good militant. Because being a good militant means being related, one way or another with the masses.”

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Sunday May 11 at 9:15pm

Le Lit de la vierge (The Virgin's Bed)

Directed by Philippe Garrel.
With Pierre Clémenti, Zouzou, Tina Aumont
France 1969, 35mm, b/w, 114 min.
French with English subtitles

Garrel’s fifth feature is a parable about Jesus set in modern times.
Shot in the aftermath of the uprisings of May ‘68, made without a script and under the influence of LSD, the film reverberates with the rebellious spirit of the period. Pierre Clémenti plays a Christ reluctant to assume his earthly mission, while the Virgin Mary (Zouzou, doubly cast as Mary Magdalene) attempts to reconcile him with his duty. Garrel invokes the Christian narrative only to reject a strict retelling in a chronicle that is episodic and nonlinear. In naming his characters Mary and Jesus, Garrel reminds us of the contestatory attitude of the ’68 generation, for whom Jesus was a hippie “avant la lettre.”

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Monday May 12 at 7pm

Tout va bien

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin.
With Yves Montand, Jane Fonda, Vittorio Caprioli
France 1972, 35mm, color, 95 min.
French and English with English subtitles

Fonda was at the height of her fame when she signed on to play an
American reporter who, along with her washed-up film director husband (Montand), covers a strike at a French sausage factory in Gorin and Godard’s attack on leftist rhetoric, capitalism and consumer culture. Featuring a justly famous two story cut-away set of the factory (inspired by the bisected boarding house in the 1961 Jerry Lewis film Ladies Man), Tout va bien depicts the varying degrees of worker radicalism with caustic humor. Gorin called it “an historical film. It’s a film about history and its power to transform the individual.”

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Monday May 12 at 9pm

One Parallel Movie (aka 1 PM)

Directed by D.A. Pennebaker with Jean-Luc Godard and Richard Leacock
US 1972, video, color, 90 min.

One of the Dziga Vertov Group projects, Godard’s collaboration with filmmakers Richard Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker on the 1968 film 1 AM (One American Movie) fell apart when Godard became disillusioned with the project. After Godard's abrupt departure, Pennebaker and Leacock edited the resulting footage into One Parallel Movie. A reflexive piece that marks the unceremonious end of the decade, the film includes footage of Rip Torn, Tom Hayden, Eldridge Cleaver, The Jefferson Airplane and Godard himself.

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Friday May 16 at 7pm

Sympathy for the Devil

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard.
With Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones
UK 1968, 35mm, color, 109 min.

Re-cut and renamed by a producer (the original title is One Plus One), Sympathy features exhaustive footage of the Rolling Stones rehearsing and recording "Sympathy for the Devil," capturing the song’s transformation from bluesy slow number into now-iconic samba. The studio scenes are intercut with vignettes of an armed Black Power group hanging out in a junkyard, a bookstore whose customers slap its Maoist prisoners on their way out, and "Eve Democracy" giving a cryptic interview while wandering in the woods.

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Friday May 16 at 9:15pm

Ici et ailleurs

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, Anne-Marie Miéville, Jean-Pierre Gorin
France 1974, video, color, 60 min.
French with English subtitles

Ici et ailleurs originated as a commission by the Arab League to document the Palestinian struggle.  Godard and Gorin gathered images for the tentatively titled Until Victory, but when many of the people they had filmed were killed by the Jordanian army in Black September, the material was shelved until Godard and Miéville reshaped the footage years later, manipulating the images to “address issues of genocide, social injustice, [and] theatrical presentation… Ici et ailleurs acknowledges that although the 1970 footage in the film is “real,” the editorial decisions involved in constructing the final film are equally “real,” and they shape, distort, reconstruct, and otherwise transform the flickering images of dead Palestinians into a work which is a meditation on the creation of history, and the images that record (and transmute) that history into the fabric of our lives” (Wheeler Winston Dixon).

Two American Audiences

Directed by Mark Woodcock.
With Jean-Luc Godard, Richard Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker
US 1968, video, b/w and color, 40 min.

When Godard came to New York to make One AM with me and Ricky Leacock, he was anxious to see America before the revolution broke out, torn up as it was with the Vietnam furor. We had arranged a lecture for a class of NYU graduate students, which we decided to film for the fun of it.  La Chinoise was playing around the corner, and Columbia University students, who had initiated their student uprising on the day the film opened, poured into the theater. This to our unexpected delight, for when Godard had arranged for us to distribute the film, we had done so with misgiving, as his films were not normally known to fill theaters. It [soon] occurred to us that there were two audiences involved, and maybe that our film should be about that. – D.A. Pennebaker

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Saturday May 17 at 7pm

Regular Lovers (Les Amants reguliers)

Directed by Philippe Garel.
With Louis Garrel, Clotilde Hesme, Eric Rulliat
France, 2005, 35mm, color, 175 min.
French with English subtitles

The events of May '68 and their disappointing aftermath have
always been at the heart of Philippe Garrel's work. Regular Lovers is the director's achingly beautiful memorial to the moment itself, and to the poignant confusion felt by French youth who tried to keep the spirit of revolt alive as they grappled with adulthood. A young poet (played beautifully by the director's son Louis) witnesses the conflagration during a night on the barricades and then experiences the euphoria of love and communal freedom, followed by the inevitable moment when reality comes to collect its due. Garrel’s intimate, poetic epic harks back to the silent films of Louis Feuillade and the poetry of Baudelaire and Gérard de Nerval in its austere yet romantic vision of Paris by night and by day.

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Sunday May 18 at 3pm

See You at Mao (aka British Sounds)

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard and the Dziga Vertov Group
UK 1969, 16mm, color, 54 min.

Believing that the narrative film—even when modified as in his own Breathless or Masculine Feminine—was outdated and bourgeois, Godard let loose a propagandistic audio-visual barrage on the senses that combines Maoism, the Beatles, multiple sound tracks, minimal cinema à la Warhol, nudity (accompanied by a women’s liberation statement), and excerpts from Nixon, Pompidou, and the Communist Manifesto, all ending with a blood-spattered hand painfully reaching for a red flag.

Godard in America

Directed by Ralph Thanhauser, Appearing in Person
US 1970, 16mm, b/w, 44 min.

In April 1970, Godard and Gorin toured major American universities screening See You at Mao in order to raise money to finish a film on the Palestinian Al Fatah movement (a project that was never completed). This penetrating and rarely screened document of that tour, made by a talented Harvard student, reveals the enormous appeal of these French filmmakers to a new generation of politically engaged young Americans.

audio from evening Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.

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Sunday May 18 at 7pm

A Grin Without a Cat (Le Fond de l'air est rouge)

Directed by Chris Marker.
France 1977/2001, 35mm, color, 180 min.

After a number of years working anonymously with a filmmaking
collective dedicated to activist production, Marker reemerged to again make films under his own name. A Grin Without a Cat was released in its original four-hour long form in 1978, “reactualized” by Marker years later, and reworked again—with a coda added in 1993—the version presented here.  Described by Marker as "scenes of the Third World War," this epic film essay surveys the rise and fall of the worldwide revolutionary movement of the 1960s and 70s, encompassing France in May of 1968, U.S. anti–Vietnam War riots, the Czech uprising and its encounter with the Soviet military, and much more.  The resulting experience is what critic J Hoberman has described as a “grand immersion” into Marker’s distinctive poetic genius, which intermingles all kinds of archival material (including an intriguing analysis of the Odessa steps sequence in Eisenstein’s Potemkin) with willfully eccentric sequences such as the film’s interpolation of footage of an “impressively pagan Belgian cat festival—full of giant floats, puppets, and masques—into a series of public events marking the end of the left.”

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Monday May 19 at 7pm

J’entends plus la guitare
(I Don't Hear the Guitar Anymore)

Directed by Philippe Garel.
With Benoît Régent, Johanna ter Steege, Yann Collette
France 1991, 35mm, color, 98 min.
French with English subtitles

Philippe Garrel’s semi-autobiographical film is a look back at his life with Euro-chanteuse Nico. Benoît Régent plays Garrel’s alter-ego Gérard, involved in an increasingly destructive relationship with the Nordic Marianne (ter Steege). They and their friends fall in and out of love, discuss the meaning of life and wander in and out of each other’s lives. Garrel’s characters talk constantly, trying to make sense of their experiences. Gérard ultimately settles down with another woman, but his life is forever marked by Marianne. Garrel’s unadorned filmmaking makes an intimate, heartfelt cinematic experience out of this portrait of a generation adrift.

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Monday May 19 at 9pm

Le Gai savoir

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard.
With Juliet Berto, Jean-Pierre Léaud
France 1969, 16mm, color, 95 min.
French with English subtitles

Originally commissioned as a modern version of Rousseau’s Emile for
French television (which subsequently refused to air it), Le Gai savoir is an investigation into the nature of language and image. Godard’s multi-level exploration employs two symbolic characters—Patricia (Berto), a daughter of Lumumba and the Cultural Revolution, and Emile (Léaud), great-great-grandson of Jean-Jacques Rousseau—and takes place in the metaphorical void of a deserted television studio at night. The two agree that they must go back to the degree zero of cinema, dissolving its sounds and images to find its structure. Only then, after a fresh start, can the media bring about revolutionary social relations.

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