Chronicle of a Summer Blu-ray Review

Matt Hough

Senior HTF Member
Apr 24, 2006
Charlotte, NC
Real Name
Matt Hough
XenForo Template [color=: black]With the proliferation of reality shows on television nowadays, the very concept of “reality” is open to question. That debate isn’t a new one, however. Even in the earliest dabblings in the cinéma-vérité movement, there was a constant dispute about how truthful and real the events could be with an obvious camera and crew present and with people who would either try to be natural for the camera or instead “put on a show.” Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch’s legendary cinéma-vérité experiment Chronicle of a Summer won’t answer any of those troublesome “real or fake?” questions, but it’s an interesting if flawed baby step into the world of “truthful film.” [/color]

[color=: black]Chronicle of a Summer (Blu-ray)[/color] [color=: black]Directed by Edgar Morin, Jean Rouch Studio: Criterion Year: 1961 Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 1080p AVC codec Running Time: 90 minutes Rating: NR Audio: PCM 1.0 French Subtitles: English[/color]

[color=: black]Region:[/color][color=: black] A MSRP: $ 39.95[/color]

[color=: black]Release Date: February 26, 2013[/color]

Review Date: February 22, 2013

The Film

3.5/5 Jean Rouch was a filmmaking anthropologist and Edgar Morin was a film critic and sociologist when they decide to combine their talents in a several months-long endeavor to bring friends and acquaintances into a situation where the question could be put to them “Are you happy?” and then spend months exploring their lives as they searched for answers. Though some early man-on-the-street interviews get little to no feedback of any great significance, the more in-depth focusing on several people from different walks of life (students/intellectuals, artists, factory workers) did show some promise, and they make up the bulk of the film, often in counterpoint to the two directors who insert themselves into the movie to steer conversations into areas of interest or to change directions when things seem to be going awry. Most of people under the microscope find that they’re aren’t happy because the necessity of earning a living to survive prevents them oftentimes from fulfilling dreams of grander endeavors. During the course of their studies, several personalities emerge as the most interesting: the delicate Marceline who’s enduring a painful breakup with her philandering boy friend Jean-Pierre (who seems unfazed by guilt over his behavior), Mary Lou whose enormous mood swings seem tied to the existence of love in her life, and Angelo who hates his dead-end job at Renault but must persevere to earn money. Marceline has a memorable sequence where she reveals herself a Jewish concentration camp survivor (the numbered tattoo on her arm isn’t understood by visiting Algerian Landry) hauntingly remembering losing her father at Auschwitz. Angelo has an area in his tiny backyard where he exercises, and while nothing much is made of his workout routine, it’s obvious that he’s got the physique and talent enough to have been a professional wrestler had he chosen to go that route. Three sequences stand out for other reasons, two positively and one negatively. Rouch and Morin bring many of their subjects together over dinner to discuss the on-going Algerian War which many of the young men have in the forefront of their minds since the possibility of the draft is ever-present. With an actual Algerian (Landry) present and the young people almost all in agreement that the French are in the wrong and should pull out after six years of fighting, there isn’t much to debate here (there is also some talk from the girls about interracial dating, but it isn’t explored, a problem that frustratingly recurs in the movie: Morin and Rouch don’t allow their cameras to probe more deeply into serious topics on the minds of these people). Near film’s end, the directors show to rough cut to the participants and then hold a post mortem on the footage capturing their subjects' reactions to the movie. The honest responses, some pleased and some mortified, seem the realest moments in the movie. On a negative note, Rouch, fearing that the movie was getting too serious and against Morin’s wishes, interrupts the proceedings with an interlude at the beach where people water ski and sun bathe and a Brigitte Bardot wannabe gets to preen before the camera. That entire sequence is best forgotten.

Video Quality

3.5/5 Shot mostly in 16mm and blown up for theatrical showings, the 1.37:1 transfer (1080p resolution using the AVC codec) is typically erratic in sharpness and clarity. Most of the age-related artifacts have been removed (hairs are left in place in a couple of instances), but the grayscale features okay black levels but white levels which bloom on occasion. The white subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 22 chapters.

Audio Quality

4/5 The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is better than one might expect for such a low budget endeavor. Engineers have cleaned up the audio track so that there is no hiss or crackle present, and fidelity is surprisingly fine for a film which features lots of talking-heads. Yes, there are moments when the sound is flat or sound effects have an added-after-the-fact quality, but overall, it’s more than acceptable.

Special Features

4/5 All of the bonus features are presented in 1080p. Un été + 50 is the best supplement on the disc by far, a 2011 compilation film directed by Florence Dauman bringing together modern interviews with director Edgar Morin and film participants Marceline, Jean-Pierre, and Jean along with extended outtakes from the movie which contain much of the in-depth debates and explanations missing from the finished film. We also get to see how certain actions and reactions were being subtly manipulated by the directors in this 75-minute feature. A 1962 interview with director Jean Rouch for French television goes into some of his other films and how they differed from Chronicle of a Summer. It runs 5 ¾ minutes. A 1961 interview with Marceline Loridan also for French television after the film won the International Critics’ Prize at Cannes finds her describing again her confinement in a prison camp during World War II and how she got to know Edgar Morin leading to her involvement in the project. It runs 7 ¼ minutes. Anthropologist Faye Ginsburg offers a video critique of the film and discussion of Jean Rouch’s other film work in this 14 ¼-minute video essay. The enclosed 37-page booklet contains the chapter listing, a cast and crew list, many black and white stills from the movie, and a lengthy critical essay on the film by professor Sam Di Iorio. The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

In Conclusion

3.5/5 (not an average) Early breakthroughs in [color=: black]cinéma-vérité are front and center in Chronicle of a Summer. While the film is not as compelling as a good fictional drama on many of the topics which are brought up during the course of the movie, the approach to reality filmmaking is unique, and students of cinema will certainly find it of archival interest if nothing else.[/color] Matt Hough Charlotte, NC


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