A GRIN WITHOUT A CAT (Le fond de l’air est rouge)
(director/writer: Chris Marker; cinematographer: Pierre-William Glenn/Willy Kurant; editor: Chris Marker; music: Luciano Berio; cast: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Cornwell, Robert Kramer, Cyril Cusack, Vilma Hollingbury, John Laurenson, Alfred Lynch, Sylvestra La Touzel, Charlotte Trench (narrators); Runtime: 180; MPAA Rating: NR; Icarus Films Home Video; 1977- France-in English, Spanish and French with English subtitles)
“It’s not your usual political doc.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The title slyly refers to Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, and uses it as a metaphor for the solitary guerrilla fighter who was abandoned by fellow Communists and left to be captured in the mountains of Latin America (referring to Che’s ill-fated adventure in Bolivia). Octogenarian Marxist cat lover, the acclaimed French filmmaker Chris Marker (“The Last Bolshevik”/”A.K.”/”Sans soleil”), directs this remarkable three-hour leftist overview of the worldwide upheavals during the Sixties and Seventies (in footage released in 1977) that was reworked in 1993 to include the ending of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Marker’s film is divided into two parts. Part 1 is entitled “Fragile Hands,” which refers to the student radicals and their working-class antiwar movement that nearly toppled the government of Charles de Gaulle in 1968. But Marker reminds us the upheaval starts in 1967 in Berlin, as German students protest the visit of the Shah of Iran and their success gave the French students the heart to launch their own massive working-class protests in the streets of Paris in 1968. Part 2, “Severed Hands,” covers the falling apart of the youthful radicals with the established figures of France’s Communist party, the repressive Russian occupation of Prague and the coup d’état in Chile, where the U.S.-backed military coup resulted in the ouster of the first democratically elected socialist president–Salvador Allende.
It could be viewed as the disillusioned Marxist’s analysis of what went wrong from the hopeful revolutionary days of the Sixties, as he reminds us of familiar events that the current powers would most likely want us to forget as they go about doing the same dirty business as before the revolution lost its mojo.
History buffs should rejoice in the rare original footage Marker caught on film of Fidel, Che, Regis Deray in Bolivia and et alia. It’s not your usual political doc, as Marker gives his personal touch in this excellent essay in search of the truth–a mix of historical facts, newsreels, film clips (such as Eisenstein’s 1925 classic the Battleship Potemkin), and Marker’s own invaluable footage taken in such hot spots as Cuba, Czechoslovakia, and Washington (during the Vietnam War). The result is an intelligent pathos that is rendered to the revolutionary events that helped shape the last quarter or so of the 20th century, making this unassuming film actually one of the more important ones of the last century.
REVIEWED ON 10/15/2009 GRADE: A https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/