Chronicle of a Summer (1961)

Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d’un été)
Directed by Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch
Argos Films
First viewing/FilmStruck
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

This film gave the term cinema verite to the lexicon while at the same time foreshadowing such exercises as David Holzman’s Diary.

The filmmakers set out to make a film about a particular time and place – Paris in the summer of 1960 – and gathered a “cast” of non-actors to help them do so.  The main concern is how people live their lives.  This is approached by asking people whether they are happy. As the film begins one of the main subjects, Marcelline, takes to the streets with a colleague to stop random strangers with just this question.  She finds very few that will even give her the time of day.

Then we start focusing on the subjects who have agreed to participate in the project. They answer at length, sometimes with gut-wrenching honesty.  At the same time, the film explores the immigrant experience and feelings about the upheaval in the Congo and the war in Algeria.  The film concludes with a reflection on whether the camera has made the reactions filmed “false”.

There’s a lot to think about here.  The filmmakers picked their subjects with a lot of care – it’s not clear whether the people were all previously acquainted – and their stories and emotional and intellectual lives are all fascinating.  The film is beautifully done and I highly recommend it.

Clips with commentary by Jean Rouch

2 thoughts on “Chronicle of a Summer (1961)

  1. There are a lot of good ideas here, but I am not so sure the meta element works so well. If it had been more focused on its stories and less on its mission I think I would have liked it better.

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