September 27, 2014
Le Joli Mai (1963)
Grade: 48/100

Director: Chris Marker
Stars: Yves Montand, Chris Marker

What it's about. The lengthy war between Algeria and its colonial power France ended in March 1962. The advent of peace in Paris apparently provided the inspiration for French filmmaker Chris Marker to make a documentary about Paris in May 1962. He interviews a diverse selection of Parisians. The unobtrusive score is by famous composer Michel Legrand. Well known actor Yves Montand narrates, and also contributes an off-camera intermission vocal performance.

Marker diligently made a list of those he interviewed, then lost the list. So, we don't know the names of the people we see on camera, and thus miss out on finding what happened to them over the next 50 years. Filmed in black and white with French dialogue, although an English version exists narrated by highly regarded actress Simone Signoret, which I have not seen.

Among those interviewed: a middle-aged salesman, a union laborer, an elderly stockbroker, a cat owner whose pet endures an array of costumes (Marker apparently had a minor obsession with cats), a young African immigrant, a young Algerian immigrant, a young married couple blissfully in love, women at a salon, and probably others that I have forgotten about.

Marker's intention is to try to form an impression of the real Paris of May 1962, comprised of the daily saga of its many working-class citizens. This contrasts with the typical cinematic presentation of Paris as a slew of street cafés, pretty women wearing expensive dresses, and the Eiffel Tower.

How others will see it. Le Joli Mai, translated as "the jolly month of May," travelled the festival circuit in 1963, where it had some success. It fell into near-obscurity, revived from its slumber from time to time, aided by later activities of Chris Marker, whose long and productive life ended on his 91st birthday.

Le Joli Mai was made about the same time as La Jetée, a science fiction short that served as an inspiration for the Terry Gilliam feature 12 Monkeys. Marker's La Jetée has 16,816 user votes at, which is 16,484 more votes than Le Joli Mai. The conclusion: forget about documentaries. Sci-fi is where the interest is.

Nonetheless, those who have managed to see Le Joli Mai tend to enjoy it as a "slice of life." The overall user rating is 7.8, but women over 45 grade it a lower 6.9 out of 10 and, in some cases, may be bored by portions of it.

How I felt about it. Marker wants to know what his interview subjects really think. Are they happy? Will they always be so? Will the future be brighter or darker? Is De Gaulle a fascist? Okay, so he doesn't exactly ask that, but he would probably have been delighted if he could have captured, on film, someone saying so.

When you put a microphone in front of a stranger and ask them probing questions, the results are mixed. It is enlightening, albeit depressing, to hear the Algerian immigrant discuss the beating he received, in his own house, in front of his own family, at the hands of a drunken policeman. Welcome to Paris. Mind your place or else.

On the other hand, the homemaker who likes to dress up her cats in costumes just makes us feel sorry for the poor critters. And it turns out that "the man on the street" doesn't always have much to say, no matter what questions you ask him.