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The iconic French documentary gets a high-def debut, and it's as fascinating as it's ever been....
Criterion / 90 Minutes / Unrated / 1961 / Street Date: February 26, 2013
Chronicle of a Summer may not exactly be a thrillingly escapist cinematic experience, but in watching this new Criterion Blu-ray edition of the movie, it’s easy to recognize and respond to its cultural import. Framed by half-moviemaker/half-anthropologist Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin, this man-on-the-street snapshot of Paris in 1960 could rightfully be argued as the face that launched a thousand ships: one can quickly and indelibly sense the effect the movie’s blast radius had on filmic culture in mere moments.
It really is nothing more than a compilation of interviews. Shoving microphones into Parisian passer-bys’ faces, we’re first exposed to relatively straightforward topics (“Are you happy?” tends to be the first one breached), then conversations tend to evolve into more heady and philosophical arenas, especially when it comes to the immediacy of this Algerian conflict that was so present in France’s national consciousness at the time. This is not a specifically-constructed piece of cinema: Rouch and Morin want the tenor of their interview subjects to fuel their picture.
And then, in a fascinating endgame, we watch these interview subjects actually watch footage of themselves and offer commentary on that act (talk about getting meta). It’s a simple yet profound statement on the power of the cinematic image, and Chronicle of a Summer comes to a conclusion with a steady, open-minded sensibility that continues to feel anomalous and inspired. There isn’t a huge amount of entertainment value in a picture like this one, but its intellectual capacity is nevertheless impressively fertile - if you give it a chance, your mind will reel.