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Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme's LE JOLI MAI (The Lovely Month of May) is a portrait of Paris and Parisians during May 1962;the first springtime of peace after the ceasefire with Algeria and the first time in 23 years that France was not involved in any war. Written by
Saddened by Chris Marker's recent passing, I felt a desire to watch one of his films. I loved Sans Soliel and La Jetee but had never watched Le Joli Mai, one of his most famous movies. Unfortunately, in America, Le Joli Mai is hard to come by. I was only able to track down a shorter version (about two hours) which was not of great quality and stingy on the subtitles. Despite these irritations, I mostly enjoyed my viewing experience. Marker has set out to capture a specific place at a specific time (Paris in May of 1962). He interviews the old and the young, stockbrokers and working men, couples in love and a woman in prison. Along the way, Marker treats us to his meditations on life, civic responsibility, and, of course, pictures of cats (Marker loves cats). I did not find any references to Vertigo (Marker's favorite film), but maybe I was not paying close enough attention.
The best interviews in Le Joli Mai focus on citizens who have experienced conflict. The communist priest was my favorite. I also found the interviews with an Algerian laborer and an African immigrant to be fascinating. The concluding interview with a woman (off camera) in prison grounded the film in reality. Marker is not interested in giving the viewer a picture postcard look at Paris. Rather, Marker digs deeper to show the viewer what tourists do not see and interview people tourists do not meet. It is also clear that the interviewer (Marker, I assume) is taken aback by the political apathy that some of his subjects express. However, the film never takes easy swipes or becomes an ego project the way some more recent documentaries have a tendency to. The funniest moment is when the interviewer tries to convince a salesman to go to the cinema and watch Last Year at Marienbad. Needless to say, the man is skeptical. His taste in film is very different to Marker's more intellectual preferences.
Le Joli Mai, at least in the shortened cut I saw, is not up there with Sans Soliel, but it does deserve to be more widely available in the United States. Perhaps now that Marker is dead, some distributor will take a chance on Le Joli Mai.
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