Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

Pierre Lhomme & Le Joli mai

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Last Updated on December 2, 2020 by bricoleur

Pierre Lhomme discusses the origins, awards, and remastering of Le Joli mai (1963) with Chris Marker. He calls attention, during the remastering process, of Chris Marker's sense that the film would be difficult if not impossible to decipher by today's youth – that they may not comprehend that the moment of the film was directly related to, as Lhomme puts it, “the end of French colonialism.”

Thanks to japanese forms for letting us know about a recent article on Le Joli mai in Libération:
«Le Joli Mai» a la mue gaie par Gérard Lefort, published June 4th, 2013. Pardon the obnoxious advertisement that has no off switch.

Film Comment has an excellent article online as well: “Chris Marker: The Truth About Paris” by Sam Di Iorio. A portion of the articles is quoted below.

You can also check out another recent post on Le Joli mai on Arun with a View, featuring what looks like the original poster for the film (with some sly cats overlooking the expanse of Paris).

LE JOLI MAI – Un film de Chris Marker & Pierre LHomme, dit par Yves Montand

Located in the gray area between personal essay and objective document, Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme’s 1963 film Le Joli mai is both a tender portrait of a city and an indictment of a way of life. In addition to being one of the key works about the French reaction to the Algerian war, the film is also a far-reaching meditation on the relationship between individual and society, one that corresponds to the leftist social vision elaborated in much of Marker’s work. For a number of reasons (not the least of which being that the video currently circulating in the U.S. is missing a significant portion of the original film), none of this might be evident to the casual viewer. Understanding Le Joli mai becomes easier once the film is placed within the larger currents of French culture in general and Marker’s career in particular.

When Marker and Lhomme began filming on May 1, 1962, they started out in the shadow of illustrious predecessors. The previous year had seen the release of a film with exactly the same point of departure. Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s Chronicle of a Summer was the influential portrait of the Parisian everyday responsible for the slow-burning cinema verité revolution of the Sixties. Rouch and Morin effectively transformed French filmmaking by introducing new technology (a prototype of the Coutant-Éclair 16mm sync camera made especially for the film) and a new filmmaking style (cameraman Michel Brault was flown to France from Canada to shoot some of the most ambitious scenes). Using a lightweight portable camera, it was now possible to film sound and image simultaneously in practically any location. These innovations heralded a new kind of informal, improvised cinema in closer contact with the real world.

Le Joli mai’s professed goal was identical to that of Chronicle: Marker and Lhomme wanted to use emerging technology to create a portrait of everyday Paris. While recognizing their debt to their precursors (in homage, they even include a brief shot of the self-proclaimed Martin and Lewis of ethnographic cinema), in practical terms they made a very different film. Whereas Chronicle tracks the personal journeys of a small group of protagonists over a number of months, Marker and Lhomme wanted to organize a shorter time span around a wider scope of events. If Rouch and Morin’s film focuses on individuals, Le Joli mai is edited around themes.

Sam Di Iorio, “Chris Marker: The Truth About Paris,” Film Comment, May-June 2003 Issue.

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Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory
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