2013

A grin without a cat

a film by Chris Marker
3 h
Production : Iskra
Langue : Anglais, Français, Espagnol, Allemand, Russe
Son : Mono
Format : Fichier numérique, DCP, VOD, DVD
Négatif : LTC, Iskra
Versions disponibles : VFR, VENG, VESP, VDE, VPOR, VRU

Part 1: FRAGIL HANDS 1. From Viet Nam to the death of Che 2. May’68 and all that. Part 2: CUT HANDS 1. From the Prague Spring to the Joint Programme 2. From Chile to - what, by the way?

“There is a tendency to believe that World War III will begin with the launch of a nuclear missile. I think it will end that way. Until then, the figures of a complicated game will continue to develop, whose decoding may give work to historians of the future, if any remain. It is a strange game, whose rules change as the game progresses, where the rivalry of the superpowers metamorphoses both into a Holy Alliance of the rich against the poor and into a war of selective elimination of revolutionary avant-gardes where the use of bombs endangered the sources of raw materials, and into manipulation of these avant-gardes themselves for purposes that are not theirs. Over the past ten years a number of men and forces (sometimes more instinctive than organized) have tried to play for themselves - even by overthrowing the pieces. All of them failed on the land they had chosen. It is still their passage that has most profoundly transformed the political data of our time. This film only aims to highlight some of the stages of this transformation.”Chris. MARKER

Preface by Chris Marker

PREFACE 1977

Some think World War Three will be set off by a nuclear missile. For me, that’s the way it will end. In the meantime, the figures of an intricate game are developing, a game whose decoding will give historians of the future – if there are any still around – a very hard time. A weird game. Its rules change as the match evolves. To start with, the superpowers’ rivalry transforms itself not only into a Holy Alliance of the Rich against the Poor, but into a selective co-elimination of Revolutionary Vanguards wherever bombs would endanger sources of raw materials, as well as into a manipulation of these vanguards to pursue goals not their own. During the last ten years some groups of forces (often more instinctive than organized) have been trying to play the game themselves – even if they knocked over the pieces. Wherever they tried, they failed. Nevertheless, it is their coming into being that has transformed politics most profoundly in our time. This film intends to show some of the steps of this transformation.

LE FOND DE L’AIR EST ROUGE (THE BASE OF THE AIR IS RED / A GRIN WITHOUT A CAT) SCENES FROM WORLD WAR THREE 1967 – 1977

WHAT DO THEY HAVE in common, these images that linger in the bottom of our cans after each film is finished, these assembled scenes that, at a certain moment, disappear during the editing, these “outtakes,” these “discarded trims”? The first intention of this film: to cross-examine, as it were, via a precise theme (the evolution of political issues around the world in the years between 1967 –1970), our repressed unconscious in images.

THEN, another kind of repressed unconscious was made available to me by the coincidence of a television coproduction. Found footage, images already used, edited, broadcast – but televisual in form, which is to say immediately absorbed by the quicksand on which such empires are built. Images framed for television: the sweeping away of one event by another, the substitution of the dreamt for the perceived, and the final plummet into the collective “un-memory.”

IT WAS tempting to make these two series of repressed memories act upon the other, to search for a perspective on each through the other (a militant film rejected because it was deemed too ambiguous coming up against the same event described “objectively” in images from a photo agency), the gesture or the cry let slip by a reporter exterior to an act confronted with a political commentary about the same act – discarded for lack of a witness to substantiate it. Working hypotheses. A response – a partial response – is perhaps found in the completed film.

RUNNING TIME: 240 minutes1. Two parts: LES MAINS FRAGILES (FRAGILE HANDS) – LES MAINS COUPÉES (SEVERED HANDS). The caesura takes place around 1968. However, by 1967 everything is already settled: the Cultural Revolution is taken in hand; the failure of the revolutionary left in Venezuela (more significant, though less spectacular, than Che’s death in Bolivia) marks the turning point of the Castroist attempt of “revolution within revolution”; governments everywhere have begun to infiltrate and control subversive groups; traditional political apparatuses have already begun to secrete the antibodies that will allow them to survive the greatest threat that they have yet encountered. But we don’t know it yet. And like Boris Karloff’s bowling ball in Scarface, which continues to knock over skittles in its way, while the hand that had thrown it is already dead, all these energies and hopes accumulated in the Movement’s development period will end in the dazzling and futile parade of 1968 in Paris, Prague, Mexico, and elsewhere.

FUTILE? That’s to be seen. The crushing of the guerrillas, the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Chilean tragedy, the myth of China protected for such a long time by a back to front Eurocentrism, which would lead to the psychodrama of the Gang of Four, make the “after 68” period a long series of defeats – on chosen ground. But in the very unfolding of these failures, acts were undertaken, words were said, forces appeared that meant that “nothing can be as it was before” (as the uprising workers at the Lip watch factory sang), while at the same time memory was modified or erased – sometimes by the very people who had been its bearers. Hence the attraction in patiently reconstructing the path traveled, of picking up its traces, of finding clues, remnants, imprints there… An investigation – no police present – that tries to rediscover the people behind the innocence rather than those behind the crime, even – and most particularly – when the innocence of 68 became the crime of 78, or vice-versa.

AND THEN ABOVE ALL, there is this dialog at last made possible between all these voices that the lyrical illusion of 68 alone caused to come together for a brief moment. The decline having arrived, each returned to its triumphant or furious monophony. Montage restores, we hope, history’s polyphony. There is no gratuitous drawing of parallels here, just as there is none of that simplistic spite that would consist of getting people to contradict themselves (who has not done so at least once in his life?). Each step of this imaginary dialog aims to create a third voice produced by the encounter between the first two, and yet distinct from them… Is the dialectic perhaps not indeed this? No, I don’t pride myself on having managed to make a dialectical film. But I’ve tried for once (having in my time rather abused the exercise of power via “sovereign-commentary”) to give back to the spectator, through montage, his commentary, which is to say his power.

C.M.

FRAMES OF REFERENCE

ODESSA STEPS Historically, there never was an Odessa Steps massacre. It’s a film director’s brilliant idea. (“The passage of stairs itself gave rise to the idea of the scene. It was the flight of steps that made the director’s imagination take wing,” Eisenstein wrote in a 1945 article.) He wasn’t aware that, while creating this sequence, he was impacting on several generations’ imaginations.

CIVILIZATION

«No matter how much we may shrink with horror from certain situations – of a galley-slave in antiquity, of a peasant during the Thirty Years War, of a victim of the Holy Inquisition, of a Jew awaiting a pogrom – it is nevertheless impossible for us feel our way into such people.» SIGMUND FREUD, Civilization and Its Discontents, 1929

INFORMATION

The American pilot sequence doesn’t show that the Americans napalmed Vietnam, but rather an American showing himself in the process of napalming Vietnam. The mode of information is part of the information and enriches it. This was one of the principles governing the way in which the documents in the film were selected: whenever possible (television screens, kinescope lines, news clips, a letter recorded on a Mini Cassette, flickering images, voices from the radio, first-person commentary about the images by the people who shot them, reminders of shooting conditions, hidden cameras, film tracts…), the document should be linked with the actual circumstances of its occurrence. We should do our best to ensure that the information should not seem to be a cosa mentale but exist materially – grain, abrasions, and occasional splinters would not be excised.

RUDI DUTSCHKE / ULRIKE M EINHOF

«The origins of urban guerrilla warfare stem from further back… There was then the Vietnam War and the silent approval given it by the powerful of this country. There was then the student revolt, an upsurge of revolutionary utopias which were absolutely never given a chance in this country. Yes, we know and will never forget how this merry-go-round of death began.» DANIEL COHNBENDIT, Frankfurt, October 18, 1977

GUERRILLA

«It is worth noting that Mario Monje, one of those ‘revolutionary’ specimens who are becoming so frequent in Latin America, took advantage of his title of secretary of the Communist Party of Bolivia to dispute Che’s right to the political and military leadership of the movement… Che was a man never personally interested in posts, leaderships, or honors; but he believed revolutionary guerrilla warfare was the fundamental form of action for the liberation of the peoples of Latin America given the economic, political and social situation in nearly all Latin American Countries. Moreover he was firmly convinced that the military and political leadership of the guerrilla struggle had to be unified… and that the struggle could be led only by the guerrilla unit itself… So he was not prepared to give up leadership of a guerrilla nucleus that, at a later stage of its development was intended to develop into the leader of broad struggle in Latin America. And he certainly was not prepared to turn over such leadership to an inexperienced emptyhead with narrow, chauvinist views.» Bolivian Diary by ERNESTO CHE GUEVARA, “A Necessary Introduction” by FIDEL CASTRO

MAY 1968

«The French franc is no longer listed on the Amsterdam stock market as of this afternoon… Germany’s two most important banks, the Deutsche Bank and the Dresdner Bank, announced at the beginning of this afternoon that they’d ceased trading in French francs…» Radio Télévision Luxembourg, May 30, 1968

«And that’s all… Such are the threats that fit with excommunications of the past. I’ve never come across radio broadcasts dreamed up in this kind of way: if the Movement continues, French musicians cancel Satie’s pieces… if the Movement grows, French philosophers are incapable of defining methodical doubt… if the Movement triumphs, high school students refuse to pick berries to birdsong… But I won’t insist. I’ve made my last attempt to prevent France from becoming an anonymous society, I’ve failed. May our Seine, briefly turbulent, calm down then beneath mineral oil.» JEAN GIRAUDOUX, Perceval

POWER

«Leaders, by rising up, distance themselves from the masses, and the masses, beginning to look at them from below, decide not to criticize them. This fact can but provoke a grave danger of turning the leaders away from the masses and of distancing the masses from the leaders. And this may mean that the leaders become presumptuous and think they’re infallible.» SPEECH BY JOSEPH STALIN, 1927

«Stalin in fact let himself get caught in the trap of metaphysics… Stalin is responsible for the false education given to many men whose thinking got bogged down in an excess of metaphysics. This is why they made political mistakes. When, by chance, they find themselves in the grip of diverging opinions, they dismiss them. There is only one solution to counter-revolutionaries: death… But real life proved to Stalin that one can’t always act in this manner. Even Stalin couldn’t cut off everyone’s head.» MAO ZEDONG, Conference of Provincial and Municipal Secretaries, January 1957

GRIST (TO THE MILL)

The insistence on the left’s contradictions obviously results from the old metaphor about giving grist to the adversary’s mill… So, metaphor for metaphor: for fifty years, some left-wing intellectuals avoided giving grist to the adversary’s mill by making huge gusts of hot air with their denials, negations of the evidence, and their desire to know nothing… However, we later noticed that the adversary’s mill was a windmill. GUILLAUME

WOMEN

«She (Beatriz Allende) wasn’t the only one who killed herself. This involves all the women who survive within the boundaries of struggle and death. Because a woman in the middle of men cannot speak, because this solitude of women, this daily self-destruction is also a kind of suicide… Real politics must accommodate people’s existence. We only fight for others if we also fight for ourselves. » CARMEN CASTILLO, Libération, October 15, 1977

WOLVES

VLADIMIR VISSOTSKI

1Shortened to 180 minutes in 1998.

1973 - Letter of intention by Chris Marker

A film has two things in common with an iceberg: that over time there are fewer and fewer of them left, and that its invisible part is larger than its visible part.

Proper use of peelings

A film has two things in common with an iceberg: that over time there are fewer and fewer of them left, and that its invisible part is larger than its visible part.

With few exceptions, each cinematographic work leaves behind a considerable number of falls, doubles, cuts, cuts, regrets, remorse... Their destiny is to go away to the bad wind of boxes, stocks, bunkers, rust, grumbling, forgetting. And yet, it would be idealistic to think that this sharing inevitably corresponds to a choice of quality (I am talking here mainly about the so-called “documentary” film, the living film, which has filmed life) and that the ratio of edited material to excluded material is the ratio of the “good” to the “bad”, or even the “best” to the “worst”. In fact, there are completely different criteria involved. First of all, there are the limits of the chosen subject, which exclude all kinds of marginal or general aspects, moments given by chance but not required by the subject, happy digressions, sublime errors. In some cases, there is the haste of a first choice that has never really been questioned, and which leaves out elements that a more in-depth or better adjusted look would have put in the first place. There are, of course, the phenomena of censorship (or self-censorship). There is the work of time that gives back to such a sentence, such a mention, to such an event a value that could escape the moment it was taken. There are the relationships that these orphaned editing shots establish between them, over the head of their films (those shots that one regrets until the last moment not to insert because they are “brilliant” but “they don’t have their place”, and which suddenly find it, this place, in another order suggested by other meetings).

Which filmmaker has not dreamed of one day collecting his scraps, or at least reconsidering them to reuse the shots, sequences, and rolls he missed? Looking back, it is very likely that there would be at least one common theme: that of reflection. On the whole (and only on the whole) one could say that, in addition to the “made” films that generally describe the time of the event, the time of the action, their falls, their fallout, their peelings, describe the time of reflection.

These strong thoughts are of course, like all thoughts, the conceptualized alibi for economic necessity. In this case: the desire to make a film of montage concerning the last seven years, and particularly from the angle of the modulations and metamorphoses of the revolutionary theme in the current world, the month of May 68 being for France the symbolic, derisory and profound axis. When you’re not Harris and Sédouy, you have to be Abbé Pierre.

I know that I will never have the budget or the research resources to deal with such a vast subject. Then I’ll take the peelings. With all that I and the others have not retained, not used, I will make my film that I had once thought of naming after an expression used for the first time in its constructive sense: The Garbage of History.

2 – Sketch of an inventory:

The wildcat strikes at the beginning of 67... Saviem in Caen, Rhodiaceta, bits of interviews taken here and there as things started to move and we still didn’t know very well what to do, what to do...

A trip to Bolivia in June 67, filmed and never used...

A glance at the USA in October 67, in parallel with my shooting of the march on the Pentagon, when the movement took shape in the universities (and, in this regard, a re-reading of this action on the Pentagon, in the light of subsequent events, which gives it a completely different meaning today...). Unpublished documents on “The Langlois Affair”...

Cuba at the time of the struggle against dogmatism, the “Cuban heresy” at its height... An unpublished interview with Fidel Castro at that time, dealing with the “pseudo-revolutionaries”...

Photos received from China, and the account of a Western communism... A very large number of unpublished documents on May 68, including a colour filming of the barricades, an interview of Cohn-Bendit with students and workers on the beach of St Nazaire, student-worker discussions in front of Renault, and above all, “May seen by others”: Gaullist leaders, police officers, returnees and right-wing activists... Prague, summer 68: shooting and underground sound testimony....

Emmanuel d’Astier explaining in 67 the new political issue... The elections in Venezuela, the maquis, the release of an American colonel prisoner of war, “State of Siege” in real life... The 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, the Tlatelolco massacre, an interview with members of the student board... An unprecedented shooting of reactions, in the French province, after Gaulle’s departure (“I voted as the old people say: vote as red as you can, it always has time to fade away”...)

Documents on Chile of the Popular Union, Uruguay of the Tupamaros, repression in Brazil... While in Paris, interview of a Bolivian officer who took sides against his caste... The condition of immigrant workers exposed by one of their spokesmen and by a great entrepreneur...

A press conference of Turkish workers daring to take the risk of advertising to denounce the trafficking of which they are victims... An anthology of “indirect advertising” on the walls of Paris... Leftists go on hunger strike, others (Sartre in the lead) occupy the headquarters of the CNPF... Georges Marchais explains the new image of the PC, he answers to criticism (Stalinism, Czechoslovakia...) in a public debate... Apart from the specific subjects devoted to them, Artur London, Jorge Semprun, François Maspero (Marx and the Doubt, the idea of Party, the circulation of information etc...) reflect on their experiences... Régis Debray takes stock of his own... A “radical” North American activist analyses the rise and fall of the Movement... Testimony on Ivan Ilich’s ideas... Visit to a “youth club” in Senegal, An eloquent testimony because it is involuntary of European cultural domination... A clandestine shooting in Greece... Anti-fedayin repression in Amman... A considerable number of documents, from different periods, on Vietnam... The Westman Islands in Iceland, an islet of calm outside history until the day a volcano wakes up asleep for a thousand years... The Cat’s Day in Ypres... “letters” recorded on tape, sent clandestinely from several countries... Here is a first inventory of materials immediately available but, as soon as the project is known, coils, boxes, things are brought to me from all sides... It is the festival of the forgotten of the assembly, the lumpen-editing. From the past, let’s make the table full.

« Sixties » by Chris Marker

CRS/SS” (CRS being French riot police) is not a May ’68 slogan. It appears during the great miners strike in 1948, a movie by Louis Daquin shows it painted on the wall. One example among thousands of the inordinate mythification that never ceased to enshroud the events of that prodigious decade. This slogan, quoted ad nauseam as a typical expression of excessiveness and ignorance in those young quixotic bourgeois, had been originally drawn by a proletarian hand. Which doesn’t make it any wittier, yet there are circumstances when you sort of lose the right sense of proportions. It’s an aptly applied blow during a demo, and the cauliflower ear that followed (not much, considering) that prompted me next time to grasp my film camera, thus triggering a series of causes and effects whose cinematographic fallout appears on these DVDs.

But that was 1962, the prehistory, so to say, of my subject. In gauchistese, ’68 would be its zenith. Yet A GRIN WITHOUT A CAT turns around year ’67, seen as the pivotal point in the sixtyish saga. Perhaps too much has been made of the famous editorial by Pierre Viansson-Ponté in Le Monde, march ’68, “France is bored” –a moody column from which rose the consensual idea that May had been a thunderbolt in a clear sky, that no one had seen coming. As for me, I wasn’t bored at all, and to discern the waves of the seism that began to shatter our planet you really didn’t have to be prophetic. All you needed was to move, and keep your eyes open. Chance having made me born a bit restless and gifted with the ’satiable curiosity of the Elephant’s Child, when I browse mentally my diary of 1967 I think on the contrary that one had to be pretty dumb not to catch a glimpse of what was already cooking. Springtime : a trip to Cuba, at its heretic best (to the extent that the sheer name of Cuba never appeared anymore in l’Humanité, the French communist newspaper), Fidel thundering against the dogmatism of the Marxist-Leninist manuals, severing ties with all the communist parties in South America, explaining to us that the time had come for “non-Party people, new people, who break with that tepid, weakly, pseudo-revolutionary model of some who boast to be revolutionaries…”, wrong-footing his Russian allies in such a way that one year later, on the verge of delivering the famous speech in which he would align with the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia, everybody in Havana was certain that he was to announce the split with USSR (the icy shower would be but icier, but so goes History). Back in France, a message from Besançon, a small town with a strong workers tradition, and first meeting with the strikers of the Rhodiaceta factory : a strike with occupation of the plant, a premiere since the Popular Front in 1936, and a style of demands that sounded quite new. “It’s remarkable to see how these workers do link their immediate economic demands to a fundamental questioning of the labour conditions and of the capitalist society. The dignity of the working class, the true meaning of life and work are brought forward in most speeches. It’s not then for these men a matter of negotiations to get their share in a Welfare Society, US way, but to challenge that society itself, and the compensating goods it offers.” (Nouvel Observateur, march 22, 1967) Doesn’t all that sound sixtyish ? In June, flight to Bolivia with François Maspero, searching for a certain Régis Debray, who happened to be our friend, recently nabbed by the sbires of the Bolivian dictatorship, in order to bring our little stone to the campaign of honorable men (Malraux for one) which could perhaps protect him from a probable dispatching. He was accused of fiddling with a guerrilla band operating in the Ñancahuazú area, and rumors as well as confidential intelligence already named their leader : Comandante Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, aka “Che” –on breaking terms, he, with practically everybody. July. Paris again, to complete an original, collective cinematic adventure, Far from Vietnam. Since the beginning of the year a team had taken shape, variable, informal, leapfrogging, mixing 12th graders like Resnais, Godard, Varda, Lelouch, Ivens, Klein with a bunch of largely unknown people, some of them film technicians, some nothing-at-all, attracted by the idea to do a militant work while practicing cinema for real. Behind the explicit enterprise of denouncing a war, you could easily decipher the search for a new way to work together, to be together. The release print was hardly out, I was in Washington DC, running with the first wave of demonstrators who attempted –symbolically, quite symbolically, to storm the Pentagon. While strongly tied to the struggle against the war, the “challenge” of the society that the Rhodia strikers had heralded was here the watchword of every University, as well as a flurry of new movements who in turn joined more traditional and fundamental struggles –the Women, the Blacks. Then at the end of the year, our pals in Besançon were onto the breach again, with a new strike. This time we were better armed. All the Springtime episode had left was a soundtrack and a few snapshots. Now we could film. Philippe Labro and Henri de Turenne, producers in the then state-owned French Television, the ORTF, agreed for the story to be broadcasted in their magazine CAMÉRA 3 –they didn’t know what waited ahead for them. And to be truthful, the documentary value of this episode lies today even more in its ups and downs than in the film itself. We had shot a strike, strikers, workers, Union activists, they had spoken candidly about their living conditions, their political stands, nothing contradictory with Albert Camus’ phrase that opened CAMÉRA 3 “The journalist is the historian of the moment”. Obviously the ORTF management had a different conception of what journalism should be. Their response was short and clear : total blackout. With a courage rarely seen in those times, Labro and Turenne fought back, and threatened to sink their magazine if the story wasn’t on the air. Hardly used to dealing with a rebellion, the management pitched, rolled and finally gave in. The story could be aired if it was followed by a “debate” between serious folks. OK for the debate : the hot-and-cold effect it would induce couldn’t but help our cause. And so was it : for the first time you’ll find here large extracts. French viewers, especially those Left-oriented, will smile when meeting Jacques Delors, future key figure of the Socialist Party and potential candidate to the Presidency, among the serious folks invited to temper the “extremist” content of the workers talk. My friend Henri uses that, er, overstatement in his introduction, and by itself this detail sheds a murderous light on the gaullist ORTF. But another sentence of that introduction deserves a second look. “We broadcast this testimony because… it reflects in spite of all (sic) a certain state of mind, a certain spirit that exists in some parts of the working class.” Couldn’t be better said, and so much for the thunderbolt in a clear sky. Then as the Parthian shot, came the title. God knows that with Mario Marret and Carlos de los Llanos, my two cronies, we had racked our brains to find a title that would be neither too flat nor too provocative. Until a female editor with brains replayed the final words by Yoyo Maurivard, when, facing the camera, he addresses “the bosses” : “”We’ll get you, it has to be, it’s nature and...be seeing you!“”Be seeing you! “here is your title...” Let’s admit that for a program aired on March 5, 1968, it wasn’t inappropriate.

Student protests in the US, emergence of a new kind of problematics in the working class, staggering blows in every field of the orthodoxy, right or left, all that composed, as they say, a certain mood. It’s understandable that France, somehow lagging behind History, as it occasionally does, would catch up with mythology the following year. Peculiar circumstances would help. The insane brutality of the police, who from the first day were hitting at anything that moved, demonstrators and passers-by alike, transforming into a riot what could have been a slightly radical rag parade -the fair weather, which lent to that month of May a festal atmosphere : if it had rained cats and dogs on the “night of the barricades”, it would have been different. And the presence of an inventive and hyperintelligent kobold, Dany Cohn-Bendit, who immediately gave a sense and depth to the story that others may not have caught. It is by the dilution of all those aboriginal singularities into a big wave that wouldn’t have spared anyone anyway, that had ebbed and flowed in 1967, that the myth of May ’68 would be cemented. A solid cement. Forty years later, president Sarkozy would still find in it the source of all evils, while others mourned a “spirit of May” to be retrieved at all costs in the debris of History, just as Martin Luther was searching the Scriptures for the secret of a betrayed faith.

I don’t know if there was a May spirit. There was a spirit in May. Philosopher Maurice Clavel saw in it the Spirit itself, the revolt of spiritual forces against a materialist world. It was an angle, but the nice side of that era is that you can say practically anything about it and be sure to strike home from a certain angle and lamely goof from another. It is too easy to sort out all its extravagances and ridicules, everybody did it, and the worst reproach we can make to the soixante-huitard folklore is to have provided those it was supposed to fight with an everlasting stock of caricatures. They ended up covering other images of those unreasonable days, what they carried of true generosity, of genuine inventiveness. Symetrically it is interesting to decipher in them, as in a laboratory, the pattern of the century’s great contradictions. At the lowest cost (almost no bloodshed), it presents a kind of outline of all the revolutionary processes. What started with a nice but somewhat silly “It is forbidden to forbid” vertiginously turns to “Everything is forbidden except us”. The main enemy is no longer an almost abstract Power which is fought with rites (slogans, speeches, meetings – we live with the fantasy to storm the Winter Palace, nobody will ever think of marching on the Elysée !) but the other party, the other sect, the other groupuscule. The funny part is that the government itself feels much more threatened than it really is, Michel Jobert’s and Constantin Melnik’s memoirs tell a lot about the real panic that had invaded the Power circles. In these limboes of History, any simulation will do. One of the most preposterous : the occupation of the headquarters of the Literary Society by one Writers Union (the sheer name gives a cold sweat to whoever has known the Soviet Union), so named out of antiphrasis since its three constituents keep tearing one another apart in the name of revolutionary purity. For here we are, we’re making the Revolution. A confession : when I heard my friends revel in this word I heard a metaphor, a sort of sexy way to christen the true transformations of thought or mores that unfolded before us, which where not negligible, and would leave traces. And as I just said, nobody outlined a true strategy to seize the power. Today, when I read their memories, I realise they were actually thinking about it, talking about it, dreaming about it and I still wonder with perplexity what precise images they could paste on that dream. Because, as Chairman Mao - who didn’t talk only nonsense- had told us : “Revolution is not a dinner party”. Che, whose photo was (already) loved by all, and whose books were read by nobody, was even more technical. “Hatred as a factor of struggle, the relentless hatred of the enemy that impels us over and beyond the natural limitations of man and transforms him into an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine.” It sounds even better in Castilian “Una efectiva, violenta, selectiva y fría máquina de matar.” Sometimes I used to ask to one or another if what they really wished was for their children to become effective, violent, selective and cold killing machines. The answers were dilatory. In fact, in a country ruled by a strong power, although momentarily paralyzed, this revolution had another name : Civil War. “The only just war”, as some lunatic dared to say. Others would take the plunge : Serge July, Alain Geismar “Toward the civil war”, 1969. “Although we don’t intend to play prophets” (just as well), “the horizon for France in ’70 or ’72 is the Revolution”. The horror of the two great civil wars of the 20th century, Russian and Spanish, should have incited them to choose the words with less… (let’s keep moderate) lightness. But the myth was the strongest and it would remain so for a long time. I remember my last conversation with Althusser1 . He was back from Portugal in full “Carnation Revolution”, and this time, that was it ! After many failed outbursts, including our month of May, Portugal was about to carry out the first socialist revolution since 1917, consolidate it and from there spread it to the whole of Europe. I listened to him as in zero-gravity. Facing me was not a likeable young leftist nut, but one of the greatest French intellectuals of his time. For him, as for others, Revolution was in the air, and had to be, like the grin of the Cheshire Cat. He would always see that grin. And he wouldn’t (nor would anyone) ever see the Cat.

In May anyway the final whistle came quickly : with the first casualty. Not too serious for revolutionaries, but it’s a fact, the murder of Pierre Overney by a Renault watchman would bring everyone back to the real value of lives, things and words. On the workers front, the great wave finally met its dikes, a phenomenon summarized by former minister Edgar Pisani in one sentence “a terrible connivance between the conservative apparatus of the CGT (the communist-led union) and the conservative apparatus of the government”. And a great disorder fell on everyone’s mind. Strangely, the small clannish fights used to draw a kind of overdetermination from the fact they had developed in this fuzzy space of the imaginary revolution. Left to their own devices amidst a reassured country, they became weakly and purposeless. Historical Anarchy had died -heroically- in Spain. To refer to it now made no more sense than being a royalist, unless it became an ideological business, quite profitable at that. The Communist Party had missed every helping hand offered by History and started the long spin of a motorless airplane. French Maoism would remain a landmark in the history of teratology. The foolishness of morons is a plague, but statistically speaking we have to put up with it. What is fascinating is the foolishness of clever people and in this particular case, some of the cleverest. Sometimes you felt an almost physical pain to watch intelligence and character get bogged into this –not only clowns like Sollers and his Tel Quel bunch, but true characters, true intelligences. And stern antifascists glorified the Red Guards, who were inordinate Hitlerjugend... Finally there was a very small minority who took revolutionary logomachy to the letter and became entangled in an armed fight that even Che wouldn’t have approved of then or there. On which basis, with what verbal porridge... “In my comrades’ minds, this action (the assassination of Georges Besse, Renault CEO) was supposed to slow down the progress of the bourgeois recomposition, aggravate its internal contradictions and thus weaken it in the class struggle”. The quote is reported by Regis Schleicher, and it is really incredible that the only intelligent and dignified self criticism of Action Directe2 has gone practically unnoticed. “Twenty years later, he writes, we can’t help but notice that the hypothesis we defended failed. Unless we are obsessed, intellectually blind and incapable of understanding how things evolve, we have to admit that the revolutionary movement and the social movement have proved us wrong.” The petty inquisitors who refused AD member Nathalie Ménigon her parole because she wouldn’t “repent” should have questioned (pure rhetoric, those people never question anything) the relationship between the quality of a reflection and the living conditions of the person who’s supposed to reflect. Schleicher was in jail, but in normal detention. Taking stock of those years, he recalls friendships and violence but overall, conditions were humane. To hold someone in infra-humane conditions (as when Nathalie did request for the company of a cat, and was denied...) and then to demand he or she should beg for pardon, is abject but above all stupid. As if clinging to one’s acts and justifying them in spite of all was not, rather than a sign of stubborness, the last resort to dignity. “You’ve robbed me of everything but you won’t hear me say you’re right”. Back in a world where it is possible to think otherwise than against your warden, perhaps Nathalie Ménigon will be capable of the same self-reflection as Schleicher. From him, one more thing to remember, three short sentences which should stir some people’s conscience: “Some maintained that the power is at the end of the gun. I used to believe that thesis. Others, who were teaching it, let us take responsibility.”

Elsewhere, things were more violent, more difficult than in France, but the curve was the same. For having gleaned a few traces of these luminous and murky years, I tinkered these films. They don’t claim to be any more than that: traces. Even the most megalomaniac, A GRIN WITHOUT A CAT (originally four hours long, wisely reduced to three but without modifying the content, just shortening it, with a short monologue at the end) is in no way the chronicle of a decade. Its inevitable gaps would become unjustifiable. It revolves around a precise theme: what happens when a party, the CP, and a great power, the USSR, cease to embody the revolutionary hope, what looms up in their place and how the showdown is staged. The irony is that thirty years later, the question is irrelevant. Both have ceased to exist and the only chronicle is that of the unending rehearsal of a play which has never premiered.

Chris Marker, May 2008

1Louis Althusser, philosopher, marxist, guru of the New Left.

2Action Directe aimed at being the French replica of the Baader gang in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy. They were a tiny group and made a few killings and holdups, until they were arrested and sentenced to life.