Chronique D'Un Été
CHRONIQUE D'UN ÉTÉ
(Chronicle of a Summer)
Directors: Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin
Production: Agros Films; black and white, 35mm; running time: 85 minutes, English version is 90 minutes. Released October 1961, Paris. Filmed summer 1960 in Paris and Saint-Tropez.
Producers: Anatole Dauman and Philippe Lifschitz; screenplay: Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin; photography: Roger Morillère, Raoul Coutard, Jean-Jacques Tarbès, and Michel Brault; editors: Jean Ravel, Nèna Baratier, and Françoise Colin; sound: Guy Rophe, Michel Fano, and Barthèlèmy.
Cast: Jean Rouch; Edgar Morin; Marceline; Angelo; Marilou; Jean-Pierre; Jean (Factory worker); Jacques (Factory worker); Régis (Student); Céline (Student); Jean-Marc (Student); Nadine (Student); Landry (Student); Raymond (Student); Jacques (Office worker); Simone (Office worker); Henri (Artist); Madi (Artist); Catherine (Artist); Sophie (Model).
Awards: International Critics Prize, Cannes Film Festival, 1961.
Rouch, Jean, and Edgar Morin, Chronique d'un été, Paris, 1962.
Armes, Roy, French Cinema Since 1946, Volume 2: The PersonalStyle, New York, 1966.
Ali Issari, M., Cinema Verité, East Lansing, Michigan, 1971.
Barnouw, Erik, Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, New York, 1974.
Courchay, Claude, Chronique d'un été, Paris, 1990.
Sandell, Roger, "Films by Jean Rouch," in Film Quarterly (Berke-ley). Winter 1961–62.
Milne, Tom, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1962.
Gerard, David, in Films and Filming (London), August 1962.
Shivas, Mark, in Movie (London), September 1962.
Graham, Peter, "Cinema Verité in France," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1964.
"Jean Rouch in Conversation with Jacqueline Veuve," in FilmComment (New York), Fall-Winter 1967.
Blue, James, "The Films of Jean Rouch," in Film Comment (New York), Fall-Winter 1967.
Freyer, Ellen, in The Documentary Tradition, edited by Lewis Jacobs, New York, 1971.
Levin, G. Roy, in Documentary Explorations: 15 Interviews withFilmmakers, New York, 1971.
Marcorelles, L., "Je suis mon premier spectateur," in Avant-Scène duCinéma (Paris), March 1972.
Studies in Visual Communication, no. 1, 1985.
Ben Salama, M., M. Serceau and L. Goldmann, "Special Section," in Cinemaction (Conde-sur-Noireau), no. 81, 1996.
* * *
Substantially distinguished as an ethnographic filmmaker, a studious if somewhat unscientific observer of rituals among the hunter-gatherers of post-Colonial Africa, Jean Rouch returned to his native Paris at age 40 in 1959 to encounter a new and stimulating intellectual climate. His friend, the critic and filmmaker Edgar Morin, challenged him to make a film about "his own tribe." Rouch responded with Chronique d'un été, one of the most evocative films from the makers of that ragbag of student excess and self-aggrandizement which Françoise Giroud christened the nouvelle vague. Trained in the hard school of location shooting, Rouch knew the challenge of making an urban ethnographic film was largely technical. He persuaded André Coutant at Eclair to lend him the prototype of a lightweight camera under development for the military. After use by day, it was returned to the Eclair factory at night for modification and repairs. Raoul Coutard, who worked only one day on the film, disparages Rouch's search for "cinema verité". The effort to duplicate Alexandre Astruc's ideal of the "caméra stylo," a camera as flexible as a pen, required as much hardware as any feature film.
Chronique betrays the constraints of technique and the causation of its makers. Set-ups are studied, montage formal, photography often imitative of the cinema of performance, while a side trip to St. Tropez for an alleged holiday to observe the beautiful at play exposes the deficiencies of Rouch's philosophy of enquiry. The film is open to the same criticism of formalism as the now-historic Drew-Leacock-Pennebaker exercises in spontaneous cinema. A delight in the exercise of technique turns the aleatory by-products of low-light wild-sound filming into elements of a new style. Grain, rambling vox pop, interviews, walking tracks are chosen rather than merely being tolerated in the pursuit of truth.
But Chronique is a brilliant pre-vision of a style and approach to actuality filming that would sweep away the standard formal Grierson documentary. To begin by asking people at random "Are you happy?" was a stroke of genius. Their reactions, puzzled, truculent, thoughtful, sing with spontaneity. Nor is Rouch afraid to follow a plainly disturbed girl down into the wallow of self-pity and hysteria, leaving the watcher to make a personal determination of her sincerity. The refusal to take sides is Chronique's strength, and the conclusion, as Rouch and Morin pace around a museum, wondering if the experiment proved anything, aptly conveys their genuine doubts. By then, however, their work had made the question largely irrelevant. The technique they created was to be the New Wave's most powerful and durable legacy.