A Transition in the French Left (Chronicle of a Summer)

A Transition in the French Left.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 21.3 (2004): 173-85. Taylor & Francis Online

Article Review

[Frame of Reference]


The article is an analysis of the cinema vérité-style observational documentary mode and its advantages and disadvantages in representing political positions and personal stories. The director’s chosen approach is described as a “split between documentary and drama” due to the psychological portraits of the film’s characters that reveal intimate dialogues, monologues and confessions. Ivone argues that Chronicle of a Summer is of a collective and experimental character. The author repeatedly draws back on Morin’s sociological background to define the film as a blend between sociological/psychological study and a motion picture.

The paper addresses the criticism received by the directors regarding the questionable authenticity and vagueness of the film. Ivone points out techniques that the filmmakers use to perpetuate realism, such as the preserved flow of speech of the interviewees with “profilmic pauses and expressive stutters”. However, this naturalistic method builds a documentary with an ambiguous character: “The focus on empty time lends the film a puzzling mixture of intensity—in its search for truth—and vagueness—in the questions it asks and answers it gives.” The problem poses the question of what is more important in a documentary film: naturalism or clarity? The paper does not give a definite answer to the question, but rather dissects both facets to delve into their value and potential.

Marguile narrows down the documentary strategies of the filmmakers into three main types:

  • A record of everyday actions (e.g. Angelo’s routine in the beginning of the film)
  • Verbal reenactments (e.g. Marceline’s emotionally intense monologue about her experiences as a concentration camp survivor)
  • On-camera confessions (Marilou’s dramatic intimate revelations captured with “big close ups that try to get inside her”)

Marguile acknowledges the political content of Chronicle of a Summer as being strongly bound with the notion of the everyday Parisian life. The author describes this peculiarity as “infra-political.” The observational documentation of the per day existence and conversations of intellectuals involves discussions charged with heavy political character that touches on the Algerian War, Auschwitz experiences and the integration of African people in European society. However, as the focus of the film remains on the portrayed characters, “a whole zone of issues remains unexplored” as they are only touched upon in a conversational context. The executed documenting style pays extreme attention on it’s subjects’speech, and thus it becomes more significant than the interviews’ actual content.

Never the less, Marguile argues that the film holds a “special claim to the revelation of truth” as it consists of speeches of strong testimonial value. Chronicle of a Summer is a groundbreaking attempt for “cinema as a medium for confession”, or “cinema as a mirror.” “In cinema verite’, each and every word or hesitation is telling.”


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