Le Fond de l'Air Est Rouge (1977)

Genres - History  |   Sub-Genres - Politics & Government, Essay Film  |   Run Time - 240 min.  |   Countries - France   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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It may open with excerpts from Eisenstein's agitprop landmark Battleship Potemkin, but Chris Marker's A Grin Without a Cat is decidedly less propagandistic, if still a kindred spirit. A wry account of the tumultuous path of the New Left from its beginnings in 1967 to its gradual dissipation throughout the 1970s, A Grin Without a Cat is as much a product of memory as it is of reportage. Marker distills the events of the period through his peculiar prism, giving compelling form to his impressive collection of footage both epochal and tangential. Some of the clips are nothing short of astounding: a U.S. pilot admiring with Kubrickian glee napalm he has just unleashed on horrified Vietnamese; Salvador Allende reasoning with angry workers at a textile plant; Fidel Castro sharing a lasagna recipe with an Italian reporter. Marker portrays a movement predicated on utopian ideals as almost doomed from the start, riven by ideological differences. Yet another factor in the collapse, and one that perhaps looms larger in retrospect, was the tight grip of the Cold War superpowers on their spheres of influence. The 1993 version may have recontextualized the original to accommodate the demise of the Soviet Union, but one thing that the movie eerily suggests is how little things have changed. Replace imperialism with globalization, Communism with terrorism, Vietnam with Afghanistan, and the same patterns remain. A needed corrective to a history written by the winners, A Grin Without a Cat is a monumental achievement, at once rueful and defiant, poignant and cerebral.