Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

François Maspero Passes


Finally, I cannot forget to mention Chris Marker, without whom, quite simply I would not have become what I am. Among others, it was he who shared with me the ideal that was then behind Peuple et Culture, and much besides: a whole vision of the world where dreams were always at the heart of reality; for without dreams (unlike utopia) you can only live life as a vegetable. He, too – even more so – gave me this love for life, this life force, not to give up on what you have committed to doing.

François Maspero, “An interview with François Maspero: ‘A few misunderstandings'”,

Thanks to John Burgan, posting to the Chris Marker group on Facebook, I have learned of the death of François Maspero, radical French publisher and subject of Chris Marker’s 1970 film Les mots ont un sens. He was born 19 January 1932, grew up in the Resistence during the war that took his parents (his father at Buchenwald), became an estimed and controversial publisher, then author, and passed on 11 April 2015.

François Maspero

François Maspero, the French publisher, bookstore owner and writer who published much of the great leftwing writing of the ‘sixties—authors like Frantz Fanon and Louis Althusser, writings against torture, against Stalinism, against the Algerian and the Vietnam War—died today at age 83. His bookstore was occasionally bombed and his publications banned, perhaps most famously when he published Alleg’s “La Question,” which made public the systematic use of torture by the French in Algeria.

John Burgan, Filmmaker

DISPARITION Indépendance de l’Algérie, révolution cubaine : l’éditeur et libraire engagé, devenu écrivain sur le tard, est mort samedi à 83 ans.

L’éditeur et écrivain François Maspero est mort à Paris le 11 avril. Son ami médecin, le rhumatologue Marcel-Francis Kahn, raconte dans quelles conditions sur le site de Mediapart, où il a annoncé le décès le soir même : «Alerté par une fuite d’eau, on l’a découvert dimanche mort dans sa baignoire. Il avait passé la journée du vendredi 10 avec moi, qui l’avais amené dans une clinique de banlieue où il a subi un examen radiologique demandé par le spécialiste qui le suivait. Il avait 83 ans. Hier, on honorait la libération de Buchenwald où est mort son père. Je connaissais François depuis près de quarante ans et, au fil des ans, il était devenu mon meilleur ami.» Tous ceux qu’il a édités entre 1959 et 1982, à l’enseigne des éditions Maspero, tous les militants qu’il a soutenus, tous les lecteurs de l’œuvre personnelle qu’il a entreprise à partir des années 80 : il y a beaucoup de monde dans la cohorte de ceux qui se souviennent de lui.

Claire Devarrieux, “François Maspero, héraut de toutes les luttes“, Libération, 13 avril 2015

Here is Marker’s film via

Les mots ont un sens de Chris Marker

There is a transcript of the film’s commentary (French only) at (PDF). I have also exported this document to Rich Text format, which can be opened in Word, Pages, and other word processing programs: Les mots ont un sens – François Maspero (RTF)

It strikes me – and I may well be wrong here – that this court métrage may be the last film of Marker’s that we hear his own voice supplying the commentary. For a non-native speaker, Marker’s voice is difficult to parse, quite different from the narrator voices that came before in La Jetée and later in Sans Soleil, to give but two examples. Maspero, for his part, speaks extremely quickly. The film comes across as a conversation between peers rather than taking the more journalistic interview approach we saw in Le joli mai, where Marker is perceivably less comfortable in asking questions of his subjects (while avoiding being filmed himself). Voix off, toujours…

Here’s some additional background on Marker’s film on Maspero, from Catherine Lupton:

Number 5 in the series, On vous parle de Paris: Maspero, Les mots ont un sens (1970, ‘Maspero, Words Have a Meaning’), is an affectionate portrait of the left-wing publisher and bookshop owner François Maspero, who was a contributor to Far From Vietnam and would later publish the commentary to Le Fond de l’air est rouge. Maspero is one of the most satisfying and likable of Marker’s films from this period, achieving an exemplary balance of quirky human warmth with a clear and inventive form of political argument. Premised on the idea that ‘for Maspero, words have a meaning’ – or expressed differently, that books have an active role to play in the global revolutionary movement – the film is divided into seven sections: Quotation, Introduction, Selection, Definition, Information, Recuperation and Contradiction, each prefaced by an image of the word torn from a dictionary and placed on a black ground.

Catherine Lupton, Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, 122-123

Works of François Maspero

  • Le Sourire du chat, roman, 1984.
  • Le Figuier, roman, 1988.
  • Les Passagers du Roissy-Express, 1990, photographies d’Anaïk Frantz. Prix Novembre.
  • Paris bout du monde, 1992, texte de l’album de photographies d’Anaïk Frantz.
  • L’Honneur de Saint-Arnaud, chronique historique, 1993.
  • Le Temps des Italiens, récit, 1994.
  • La Plage noire, récit, 1995.
  • Balkans-Transit, photographies de Klavdij Sluban, chronique d’un voyage, 1997. Prix Radio France internationale, « Témoins du monde ».
  • Che Guevara, introduction aux photographies de René Burri, 1997.
  • Les Abeilles et la Guêpe, 2002.
  • Transit & Cie, récit, La Quinzaine, 2004.
  • Le Vol de la mésange, nouvelles, 2006.
  • L’Ombre d’une photographe. Gerda Taro, biographie, Fiction et Cie, 2006.
  • Des saisons au bord de la mer, roman, Seuil, 2009.

The Cat’s Grin

One other item of interest linking Maspero and Marker is the book The Cat’s Grin by Maspero (in its English translation). This book is still available, for instance here at A reader offers the following cogent review:

Cat's Grin by François MasperoCat’s Grin is an extremely personal and profound look at the Occupation and Liberation of France through the eyes of a boy plowing through both adolesence and this tumultuous time period. Cat (Luc) recalls pre-war France and his family life so precisely that the reader lives it too. As his life begins to unravel, Cat responds in his typical hilarious and wise fashion. He goes on a brave, desperate search for his beloved brother, Antoine, a fighter for the Resistance; leads his fellow schoolboys in paper airplane flying adventures in the Luxembourg gardens; and finally must come to terms with the unendurable impacts of the war. With writing that is both stark and eloquent, Cat’s Grin will sneak into your heart and stay there for a long time.

Erin Byrne,, April 13, 2007

Marker, of course, went on to give the name “Grin Without a Cat” to the English version of Le fond de l’air est rouge, in which he traces the origins, events and viscissitudes of the radical politics and protest in the 60s and 70s. The French original appeared in 1977, with the revised, expanded – and retitled – English version arriving 1988.

Obituaries & Further Reading

The Verso piece is particularly fascinating, as Maspero gives us a great gift, his own perspective on himself and his times. It serves in a way as a fascinating sequel in words to Marker’s film, across the years.

François Maspero, 2006
Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

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