Following Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer (1961), Chris Marker’s 3-hour Happy Month of May is dedicated to “the happy many” (Rouch had asked people in the street, “Are you happy?”), whose numbers, and whose happiness, prove elusive to find in Paris despite the end of the Algerian War, which has given France an unaccustomed taste of peace.
In the first of two parts, those interviewed are bound up in their own lives. This is a Paris “made up of solitudes,” as in the case of a woman who grows flowers for no other reason, she believes, than that she loves flowers. When she reveals she grew up in the country, we realize (although she does not) that the motive behind her favorite activity, and possibly her whole life, is one of separation and loss. A couple of 21-year-olds anticipate their marriage. When they were fifteen, they met at a wedding; so Marker interrupts the interview and shows a noisy, chaotic wedding dinner before returning to the couple. The boy, in the military, is about to leave for Algeria. Politics have nothing to do with them, the two say; they don’t think about politics, and in any case they are powerless to influence events.
The darker second part is social; it is about shared Parisian lives, although the “sharing” sometimes is a matter of conflict. The opening event, though, is a sharing of grief: a funeral march in the streets, attended by more than 500,000 people, commemorating eight of their lives lost in February: people demonstrating for an end to the Algerian War. The police unnecessarily fired on the crowds; fleeing to a subway platform, eight “were crushed and bled to death.”
Marker’s tremendous documentary combines smooth classical long-shots and in-the-rough cinéma-vérité.
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