Letter to the Minister

Le Joli mai by Chris Marker (1963)

Thanks to Lucien Bookmite for providing the original material for this translation of a letter from François Truffaut to the Minister of Information Alain Peyrefitte regarding the potential censorship of Chris Marker’s film Le Joli mai in the Spring of 1963. Honestly, we found this piece of history too interesting to leave buried in a comment. If you like, please consult the French original and comment thread.

To Alain Peyrefitte,
Paris, 25 april 1963

Sir Minister,

It may be that this letter will surprise you. We would certainly have greatly preferred to ask you to receive us in person, but, for the moment, we choose to write you to share with you our emotion and our hope.

We are told that you go, within some hours, to decide on the fate of a film which is very dear to us and whose projection moved us all. Le Joli mai appeared to us as a major film in an era when, as you said last year, “the forces of pressure on the individual conscience have become so numerous.” Our friend Chris Marker gives the floor directly to dozens of cornered, uncertain, anxious, at times mystified people, with a loyalty which touches us profoundly. You also said: “It is the plurality of perspectives, it is the confrontation of different opinions which can protect the fundamental liberties of citizens.”

Your comments, it is true, applied to the press. We believe in a cinema of personal expression. And Chris Marker is, for us, one of this cinema’s most brilliant directors. Freedom, in the cinema, encounters large and severe obstacles. Aside from economic pressures and commercial interests, it seems to us essential that the various families of mind can manifest themselves on the big screen.

We do not consider the cinema as an underdeveloped sector of culture. What is right for the press can, we believe, be right for the the cinema. For some years now, a new public has come into being. It reactions have become personalized. It judges. It has became an adult. As you go to decide on the public encounter with this difficult, ambitious film, and on this new type of spectator, we wanted to say to you that we consider this encounter essential, and that upon it depends a whole segment of the future of the French cinema.

We are persuaded, Sir Minister, that you will forgive the freedom which we took in informing you of our anxiety: the fate of Le Joli mai rests in your hands.

We emplore you to accept, Sir Minister, the expression of our great respect.

François Truffaut, Extrait de Corréspondance 1945–1984, Editions Hatier, 1988.