Mar. 06, 2013 - Issue #907: Garbage Goes Green
Performance and truth
Chronicle of a Summer and Greatest Hits examinate honesty and roleplay
Surveys and on-the-street interviews were already being employed by the time Chronicle was underway, but Morin and Rouch repurposed the technique for an altogether more ambitious, rigorous, ambulatory, socially experimental long-form project unlike anything that came before it—though, interestingly, the co-directors would credit Canadian documentaries with helping to forge the film's strategies, and they employed the revered Quebecois cinematographer Michel Brault (along with Godard's cameraman Raoul Coutard) to aid them in their work. The result, shot over six months in 1960 and released the following year, is wide-ranging and intimate, shaped as much by the interview subjects as by the filmmakers appropriating aspects of their lives. The film captures France during a fraught moment of transition and survives as a major statement regarding this period of dwindling postwar optimism, colonial misadventure and burgeoning consumerism. But Chronicle of a Summer, now available from Criterion, is also a study of something more timeless. The subjects, as well as the directors themselves, speak within the body of the film about whether or not the film is working, whether people are being honest or putting on a show, whether the presence of the interviewer contaminates the subject. It is a film about roleplay, how we are each of us always, somehow, inhabiting a role or offering a performance.
Which reminds me that I keep meaning to tell you about another, very different but strategically related film that I dearly hope you will have a chance to see sometime soon. Nicolás Pereda is a Mexican-Canadian filmmaker with an extraordinary output: at 31, he's already made seven features and been the subject of retrospectives in numerous cities, including Vancouver and Toronto. His latest film, Greatest Hits, seems to begin as fiction, more or less, the story of a guy who lives with his mom and is working arduously—and quite hilariously—to memorize a list of song titles so he can hawk pirated CDs on Mexico City's subway system. Then his long-estranged father turns up looking for reconciliation. The story of these three and their negotiations already forms an engaging study of family, work and the ordinary weirdness of human behaviour. Then, roughly partway through, Pereda's voice is heard from behind the camera, asking personal questions of his actors, who have much in common with their characters, and who have suddenly, perhaps without having been prepared, become interview subjects. Are they happy? Well, it's complicated. But I hope that I will have opportunity to write more about it in these pages in the near future. V
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