Chronicle of Summer (1961)

9 07 2008

Like Mister Chicken, this starts out extremely promising before ultimately losing its novelty and then, becomes a somewhat excruciating experience. It’s difficult to not admire Morin and Rouch’s intentions, but on the other hand, they execute it rather poorly. As I’ve come to expect from Rouch’s films, there’s plenty of wonderful moments but in this case, nothing ever really gels. Almost all of the people participating in the “experiment” are interesting, but not at the level that I want to hear their dull philosophical discussion. Even worse, said discussion never seem to never go beyond the rather predictable topics. Still, it is nicely filmed with plenty of great cinematic moments.

In 1960, Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch sent two young women into the streets of Paris to ask “Are you happy?” to as many people as possible. It was their intention, that through such an exercise, they would be able to capture something truthful about life, which eventually gave birth to the term “cinema verite.” In addition, Rouch and Morin also begin to document, on a more intimate scale, the lives (and thoughts) of an anxious generation. This includes a holocaust survivor, an African student, a factory worker, and a Italian immigrant. All confused and upset about the complications and abstractions that come from human interaction.

As appetizing as this all sounds, it is mostly just people discussing their philosophical concepts and telling anecdotes that are occassionaly interesting. Every once in awhile, the camera stumbles something that is truly heartbreaking but in all honesty, most of it is just people talking about issues that are far too abstract to be articulated in the form of speech. This is why so much of the film is rather dull: it does too much telling, not enough showing. Perhaps that is the point, but really, who cares about someone’s concerns about life’s repetitions. I mean, I personally relate to such a concern but when I have every person in the movie telling me the exact same idea, it begins to feel a bit like the filmmakers are just trying to expand the film’s running length.

One of Chronicle‘s great strengths, however, lies in its conclusion. The lights are turned on in a crowded theater. The audience: the characters in the film, who have attended a screening (most likely provided by Rouch and Morin) of the exact same film the audience has just finished. Some of the characters find the film too personal, while others find it far too constructed and fake. The very mixed response sparks the single most interesting discussion in the whole film; Rouch and Morin ponder on the ability of a camera to truly capture the truth. Overall, a worthwhile experiment, just not an entirely successful one.

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