GRIN WITHOUT A CAT (Chris Marker, 1977)

A massive journalistic essay on the post-colonial failures of Leftist radicalism and revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, Le fond de l’air est rouge (literally, The Base of the Air Is Red), by Chris Marker, a Leftist, marshals a wide range of archival materials, including newsreel excerpts and interviews. The titles of its two parts, “Fragile Hands” and “Severed Hands,” chart the direction in which the thing moves. The launching perspective is the rupture of political tissue connecting socialism and communism in France.
     The first part addresses the 1968 university student protests in Paris, in particular, unionism’s co-opting of these by assigning strikes to their tail. Unions perhaps perceived a relationship between these protests against societal oppression, citizen apathy, and the Vietnam War (the colonialist Indochina War that the U.S. had taken over from France) and their own interests, or simply an opportunity to impress these high-profile protests to their own ends. Thus Marker challenges the myth of Leftist coordination and solidarity, finding little political potential in the heady revolutionary atmospherics in which Paris had become immersed. Ranging the globe (the Congo, Bolivia, Chile, etc.), his film proceeds to deal with numerous events, such as right-wing assassinations and the confrontations between citizens and police throughout Europe.
     Alas, I saw the U.S. version, which is reduced by an hour—and not by the editor, Marker himself. Rather than collating different examples of the failure of radicalism and revolution, this version sometimes lurches forward from one example to the next, with only a sentence of narration forging a connection between them, and no mention is made of a country’s revolution’s becoming mired in pre-revolutionary history, culture. Moreover, a wan British voice has replaced narrators Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, whose disllusionment with Sovietism after Prague ’68 was bone-deep.

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