Int. tit.: The Merry Month of May. Scen.: Chris Marker, Catherine Varlin. F.: Pierre Lhomme, Étienne Becker, Denys Clerval, Pierre Villemain. M.: Eva Zora, Annie Meunier, Madeleine Lecompère. Int.: Yves Montand (comment). Prod.: Catherine Winter, Gisèle Rebillon per Sofracrima. Pri. pro.: 2 marzo 1963. 35mm. D.: 145′. Bn.
After Africa, Siberia, China, Israel and Cuba comes the first film focused on Paris by Chris Marker, introduced – Simone Signoret is speaking – as “the most beautiful city in the world. One would like to see it for the first time at dawn, without having seen it before, without memories, without habits. One would like to track it like a detective, with a telescope and a microphone”. The film is aptly dedicated – paraphrasing Stendhal – “to the Happy Many“. And true happiness it is: people – some known, most ordinary – are enjoying the end of the atrocious Algerian war (Marker’s 55 hours of film were shot during the first May following the war), living the short collective moment on the threshold of utopia that might soon vanish. The cruel realities are not hidden: miserable salaries, inequality, police violence, new developments in the munitions industry. According to the author, the first part of the two and half hour film is a presentation of space, the second of time. Both images and words create time travel over and over, as the masterful, rich cinematography of Pierre Lhomme conveys both the classic beauty of a city and the brave new world of modern technology, always one of the core areas of Marker’s deep enthusiasm: the camera constantly produces unexpected elements, in the cityscape and in people. Marker never misses details and facts about groups, gestures and individual faces that are generally overlooked, and such images emerge from the weather or nature as well. The editing, more invisible than in most of Marker’s montage masterpieces, proceeds according to the laws that arose from the material: “In the beginning a plan was developed with themes according to which the interviews would be conducted. But during the editing, it was revealed that on certain occasions a theme yielded something completely different and that the linking of these themes was different than what I had envisioned abstractly. In life new connections turned up, sometimes due to an image. The film began to have a life of its own, and suddenly it had rules of its own”. Like many of the most beautiful films, Le Joli mai is unclassifiable – essay, film poem, cinéma vérité (as such, a sister film, yet totally different from Rouch and Morin’s Chronique d’un été). Whatever it is, for me it might be Chris Marker’s finest film. Yves Montand reads the most lyrical commentary the cinema has given us: “So what do you say? You are in Paris, the capital of a rich country. You are hearing a secret voice that tells you that as long as poverty exists you cannot be rich, as long as people are in distress you cannot be happy, as long as there are prisons you cannot be free”.
Peter von Bagh
Restored by CNC - Archives Françaises du Film. The first photochemical restoration was made in 2009 by CNC - Archives Françaises du Film having been cut by 17 minutes from the original version, as desired by Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme. In 2012 Mikros Image laboratory, with support from CNC, made a 2K scan, with digital restoration of the image and sound. New cuts were made because the directors never considered the original version to be definitive.