Synopsis by Elbert Ventura
Chris Marker's remarkable documentary about the rise and fall of the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s was originally released in 1977, but was reworked in 1993 in the wake of the Cold War's end and the collapse of the Soviet Union. A Grin Without a Cat (the idiomatic French title, Le Fond de l'Air Est Rouge, can be literally translated as "The Essence of the Air is Red") is divided into two parts. The first part, called "Fragile Hands," focuses on the emergence of leftist movements circa 1967, the Vietnam War serving as the lightning rod for radicals of all stripes to come together to agitate for their utopian dreams. The second part, entitled "Severed Hands," details the slow demise of the invigorated left, from forces within (the discord between different factions) and without (the role of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in keeping the countries in their backyards in line). This three-hour epic offers a stunning assemblage of period footage. For younger viewers, excerpts of iconic historical figures such as Fidel Castro, Che Guevarra, Mao Tse-tung, and Salvador Allende should be particularly eye-opening. For all its expansiveness, A Grin Without a Cat flits by with blithe disregard for the audience's level of acquaintance with the events and figures discussed. Consequently, viewers well-versed in the history of the period might find Marker's essay on the New Left more fulfilling than those without any background on the subject.
Bolivia, Czechoslovakia, political-unrest, strife, Vietnam, war