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With: Edgar Morin, Jean Rouch
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Edgar Morin, Jean Rouch
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 85
Date: 10/20/1961

Chronicle of a Summer (1961)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Everybody's Happy Sometimes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Expounding upon their theory of Cinéma vérité, the French philosopher/sociologist Edgar Morin and French filmmaker Jean Rouch made this black-and-white documentary in Paris in the summer of 1960 in an attempt to get at the "truth."

The premise involves the filmmakers simply asking Parisians the question, "are you happy?" The responses are all over the place. Some people refuse to answer. One woman says, "I'm happily married." Eventually, the movie turns to discussions about the Algerian war, which was still a hot topic, as well as the subjects of money and power.

The film begins with Rouch and Morin discussing just how truthful a subject can be with a camera pointed at them. Truth be told, the movie gets a little ponderous until its final stretch, when the directors show the nearly-finished film to all the participants and record their reactions. Though it lasts only a few minutes, this truthful commentary upon the subject of truth is where the film gets really interesting, and it's followed by a shot of Morin and Rouch walking into the distance, further unpacking just what they saw and experienced.

So, in essence, Chronicle of a Summer is another one of those movies that's more historically important than it is artistically interesting. Indeed, the movie doesn't translate particularly well to the moods 2013.

The Criterion Collection, which is devoted to preserving historically interesting films, has given it a Blu-ray release, with tons of extras. These include a new feature-length documentary that inclues outtakes from the original film as well as modern-day interview with the participants; a brief interview with Rouch; an interview with Marceline Loridan, a subject in the film; and an interview with anthropology professor Faye Ginsburg. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by film professor Sam Di Iorio.

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