Chronicle of a Summer – The Criterion Collection #648 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
February 22, 2013 by Dennis Amith
Experimental cinema… Cinéma vérité and “Chronicle of a Summer” is a true representation of it. Wonderfully done and highly recommended!
Image are courtesy of © 2013 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Chronicle of a Summer – The Criterion Collection #648 (Chronique d’uun ete)
YEAR OF FILM: 1961
DURATION: 90 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, Monaural in French with English Subtitles
COMPANY: Argos Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: February 29, 2013
Directed by Edgar Morin, Jean Rouch
Produced by Anatole Dauman
Music by Pierre Barbaud
Cinematography by Michel Brault, Raoul Coutard, Roger Morilliere, Jean-Jacques Tarbes
Edited by Nena Baratier
Marceline Loridan Ivens
Few films can claim as much influence on the course of cinema history as Chronicle of a Summer. The fascinating result of a collaboration between filmmaker-anthropologist Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin, this vanguard work of what Morin termed cinéma- vérité is a brilliantly conceived and realized sociopolitical diagnosis of the early sixties in France. Simply by interviewing a group of Paris residents in the summer of 1960—beginning with the provocative and eternal question “Are you happy?” and expanding to political issues, including the ongoing Algerian War—Rouch and Morin reveal the hopes and dreams of a wide array of people, from artists to factory workers, from an Italian émigré to an African student. Chronicle of a Summer’s penetrative approach gives us a document of a time and place with extraordinary emotional depth.
Edgar Morin, renowned French philosopher and sociologist. Jean Rouch, renown French filmmaker and anthropologist and one of the founders of Cinéma vérité (a style of documentary filmmaking which combines improvisation with the use of a camera to unveil truth or highlight subjects hidden behind crude reality).
Both men would team up (not exactly collaborate but work together on a film with their own self-purpose) on creating a documentary during the summer of 1960 and find out if it’s possible to act sincerely in front of a camera. And the two worked with director cameraman Michel Brault (the filmmaker is a leading figure of the documentary genre known as Direct Cinema and a pioneer of the hand-held camera aesthetic).
In 1961, the film may or may have not struck a chord with viewers discussing life, whether or not they are happy, their feelings towards being near someone who is Black or what is happening with the Algerian War (a war between France and Algerian independence movements from 1954 to 1952) and the turmoil that was taking place in Congo.
But the film follows real life individuals discussing various topics by both filmmakers on things affecting French society at that time and by the end of the film, showing the subjects what they saw on film and discussing their true feelings about it. With opinions that surprised both Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch.
Considered as an important film that pertains to Cinéma vérité, “Chronicle of a Summer” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection in February 2013.
“Chronicle of a Summer” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio). Thanks to a recent restoration, the film looks wonderful on Blu-ray. For the most part, the grays and whites are well-contrast, detail can be seen on the closeups of characters, black levels are nice and deep and the picture quality for the majority of the film looks cleaned up and I detect no white specks or flickering for this 1960 film.
According to the Criterion Collection the new digital master presented on the Blu-ray was produced from the 2011 Cineteca di Bologna restoration, undertaking in collaboration with Argos Films. Performed under the supervision of cinematographer Michel Brault, the picture restoration was done at 2K resolution from a scan of a 35 mm blow-up print created in 1961. Digital cleaning was done using Image Systems’ Phoenix and Blackmagic Design’s DaVince Revival and color correction was done using Assimilate’s Scratch.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Chronicle of a Summer” is presented in LPCM 1.0 French monaural with English subtitles. Dialogue is clear and subtitles are easy to read. I detected no major hiss or crackles during my viewing of the film.
According to the Criterion Collection, the original monaural soundtrack was restored from a sound positive created from an optical soundtrack print and an incomplete 35 mm magnetic track. The sound was restored using Pro Tools HD.
“Chronicle of a Summer – The Criterion Collection #648” comes with the following special features:
- Un été + 50 – (1:14:55) A 2011 documentary by Florence Dauman, revisiting scenes that were cut from “Chronicle of a Summer” and interviewing co-director Edgar Morin and a few of those who were featured in the film 50-years later.
- Jean Rouch – (5:41) From a 1961 TV episode of Rhones-Alpes Actualities. Rouch discusses why he created a film in Europe and differences between his style of filmmaking vs. the French New Wave.
- Marceline Loridan – (7:20) From a 1961 episode of “Reflets de Cannes”, Marceline discusses being in a concentration camp in Auschwitz and the film.
- Faye Ginsburg – (14:10) – Anthropology Professor Faye Ginsburg discussing the context of Rouch’s career and why “Chronicle of a Summer” is an important film.
“Chronicle of a Summer – The Criterion Collection #648” comes with an 36-page booklet with the following essay, “Truth and Consequences” by Sam Di Iorio.
When it comes to Cinéma vérité, Jean Rouch is a filmmaker who is known for his work but for the French documentary “Chronicle of a Summer” by Rouch and Edgar Morin, it was a film that was provocative for its time.
Watching it in 2013, I felt the film to be enjoyable with intellectual debates but also fascinating debate among society of that time.
Before I go into the documentary style, let me first bring up the points about what I enjoyed about “Chronicle of a Summer”.
I loved the sincerity of the film to the point that the film looks like its actual acting but it’s not. No matter how well these individuals are, we quickly learn that like any other human, they are flawed. They have problems then that still affect people today.
For Marceline, she works in sociology, dislikes her job but of anyone featured in the film, she is the most blunt and talkative.
Short, petite and has scar on her arm, it is revealed that Marceline is a concentration camp survivor from Auschwitz. From the shy personality, we see her start to warm to the camera and put her trust in the filmmakers and answer their questions in sincerity. She talks about her failed relationship with Jean-Pierre (as the two talk as if they are suffocating each other and leading to his life of impotence). While the documentary featured on the Blu-ray release goes into more about their troubled relationship, we know that Marceline is hurting, we know that Jean-Pierre is hurting. But Jean-Pierre wants out and Marceline, she knows its inevitable but she knows that their relationship is doomed.
I like to use the words used in the 2011 documentary, deleted footage in which Marceline calls their relationship a tragic drama, while Jean-Pierre doesn’t agree and calls it melodrama. The fact is that their dialogue seems so far out there like it was straight from Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’avventura”, an argument that is just well thought out as if they were speaking from a script, but they aren’t. This is the way they argue and for anyone who has watched the intellectual French New Wave films of Eric Rohmer will understand that back then, these films seemed so plausible for people to have these conversations and intellectual debates but to see it happen for real is quite fascinating, moreso today when we see how arguments between a couple are not well thought-out and profanity-laden. This is part of Rouch’s Cinéma vérité.
But then you have other characters such as Landry, an African male living in France. Wants people to treat him like a regular Frenchman, not a Black Frenchman. But yet Rouch wants to engage the participants with Landry around of how they feel about Blacks.
Marceline talks about why she can’t date a Black man, because there is no connection. But when she goes into the “I’m not a racist but…” which elicits laughter from the others, Marceline represents a lot of people who have possibly never had friends of a different color, so they just don’t know how to react. But the filmmakers then bring Landry to other locations. From bringing a white man named Angelo, who works for the Renault factory, who is disenchanted with working for them but when he and Landry are put together to talk about their grievances, the two are able to get into a discussion and conversation, despite not knowing each other. Despite the color of Landry’s skin, shouldn’t people just get along like we see between these two men?
Or what about when Landry accompanies two beautiful women and enjoys swimming with them at Saint-Tropez, France. Obviously, a location that Landry is not too familiar with but it makes you wonder, was Rouch’s intention to show that having a young Black man with two beautiful white woman and show racial harmony?
The answer to that can be seen in the special feature with Jean Rouch who talks about how he wanted to denounce racism because his previous films about Africans, his depictions of them weren’t fair and so I imagined that in this film, it’s one of the reasons why he goes to great lengths of showing Blacks and whites involved in conversations with each other. But the sad thing as indicated with some of the conversations with others, back in 1960, how often would we see people of different color hanging out like what is featured in the film? While not polemicizing, at least the individuals were civil, unlike what was taking place in America during the 1960’s, as we would have seen more hatred and prejudice.
Another fascinating character is Mary Lou. Watching her being filmed, we get a feeling she either doesn’t like it, she’s mentally unstable or perhaps on some sort of withdrawal because her facial and body movements and her reactions to questions are almost painful to watch. Once again, I refer to the 2011 documentary which shows us a much happier side to the character (thanks to the filmmakers who got her a job at “Cahiers du Cinema” and where she ended up dating a well-known French New Wave director). But Mary Lou unlike Landry who came from Africa to France, is an Italian who came to France looking to change her life for the better, but quickly resorted back to her own routine which she looks as disruptive. Alcohol, sleeping around and it’s when she talks about this dark place in her life, we see her reacting with extreme discomfort or something else entirely.
I enjoyed the conversations in regards to factory workers, young adults who have no choice but to work in the factories to make a living or take care of their families. Despite working in harsh conditions. And then a juxtaposition of the intelligent students and putting these two together to see if they can get along. Is one person much better because they are in college? But it’s an interesting discussion.
And of course, the discussion of what was taking place in Congo with Belgium and also the Algerian War. With Congo, it was an interesting to see the reactions of people at the time. I think Marceline probably hit it on the nail for a lot of people at the time and that people don’t care what is happening in Congo, because it’s not affecting those in another country one bit. It was persecution of the white man towards those in Congo and after years of persecution, the people of Congo rebelled. It was bound to happen.
The discussion of the Algerian War was even more fascinating because we see people who are passionate about ending the “stupid war” and where do young French men stand on it. Would they want a draft deferment? And can younger people be a voice against war. Do they have power to voice their anger or shame towards the government? As one older individual tells the students, that it is up to the youth to stop this war, the youth disagree.
There are quite a few discussions throughout the film, but “Chronicle of a Summer” does a great job of being a timestamp of a different time in France. 1960 was a time when people of France were polarized by what was going on in the world, especially the Algerian War. People were trying to survive and the individuals featured, as clean cut as some are, the fact is a lot of people seemed to be not as happy with society.
And even when they watched the film and the both Rouch and Morin engaged those who took part in the film, there is a criticism that people were not being truthful enough or too truthful that it was not good?
Does that mean that Rouch and Morin accomplished what they want on film? If anything, I feel they thought their actions by bringing these people would leave to some positivity, but in the end, showing that these variety of people from different backgrounds, were too different but also shared a commonality that all is not right in the world and with society.
Before we talk about Cinéma vérité, let me just say that “Chronicle of a Summer” looks great on Blu-ray. Picture quality is clean, scenes have wonderful contrast and full of detail. Dialogue is clear monaural and clear. But the biggest addition to this Criterion Collection release is the addition of “Un été + 50”. A 74-minute documentary which goes further into the film with scenes that were cut out. But these scenes are actually quite wonderful to watch because we see how certain scenes were shot and how the people featured in the film would be recorded on camera, especially when it came to emotional scenes.
The break-up scene with Marceline and Jean-Pierre were fascinating but according to her, they removed it because it was too “L’avventura”. It seemed as the two were acting but they weren’t. The words spoken from their mouths sounds too goo to be true but to see people argue in a way that reminds one of arguments between a couple in a Jean-Luc Godard or Eric Rohmer film, it was happening on camera and because it seemed too good to be true, Rouch felt the need to cut it.
There are also many scenes cut out that deal with footage revolving around the conversation of the students and factory workers, the war or Landry in Saint-Tropez, but if you enjoyed the film, the documentary is like a cherry on the cake. Fascinating and so thrilled it was included as part of the special features. Also, included are older footage featuring Jean Rouch and Marceline Loridan but also an interview with anthropology professor Faye Ginsburg who discusses the film and the work of Jean Rouch.
Now going to the discussion of Cinéma vérité. “Chronicle of a Summer” is an important film in French cinema because Jean Rouch was one of the founders of the genre. But while 1959-1960 we saw the emergence of the French New Wave and the directors, Rouch did not want to be lumped with the French New Wave directors. He looked at his style as “experimental”.
But it’s a style that even Fereydoun Hoveyda had a problem with during his review of the film for “Cahiers du Cinema”. Is this style of filmmaking fictional? Because the filmmakers had to cut and recut and these individuals knew they were being part of a film, Hoveyda asks in his review, “Whre is the truth, where is the authenticity?” Or rather, what truth, what authenticity is conveyed by the leading characters?”.
Hoveyda called “Chronicle of a Summer” a fantastic film but he does bring up the debates of what is real? Are people sitting together really eating together or are they forced to be with each other and eat together in front of a camera? Some have even criticized the film for not being representative of people in France.
Personally, I feel the people selected for this film were wonderful for the fact that they were all different. Different ages, different backgrounds and sometimes the way the people are presented, some may have a hard time believing that what they are watching are normal people and not actors. Yes, Marceline is focused quite a bit in this film and she gets a part where she walks through the city as the camera uses some interesting techniques, but scenes like this seem to make some viewers feel that she must be an actress.
But this was a part of new cinema of its time. Experimental cinema… Cinéma vérité and “Chronicle of a Summer” is a true representation of it. Wonderfully done and highly recommended!
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