Chris Marker’s epic "direct cinema" portrait of Paris in May 1962 returns in this meticulous new restoration by the film’s cinematographer and co-director Pierre Lhomme.
Le Joli Mai (The Lovely Month of May)
Chris Marker, Pierre Lhomme
The restoration of Chris Marker's legendary portrait of Paris in May 1962 premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival, exactly half a century after the original won the International Critics Prize there. Meticulously restored by the film's cinematographer and co-director, Pierre Lhomme, according to Marker's Instructions — trimming the original by almost twenty minutes — and featuring a lovely English voiceover (Marker's preference for anglophone audiences) by Marker's comrade and friend Simone Signoret, Le Joli Mai emerges as one of the director's most poignant and important works.
Characteristically witty and generous, Marker's epic "direct cinema" inquiry into the possibility of happiness during France's first springtime of peace in many years (following the recently signed ceasefire that marked the end of the Algerian War) is structured in two parts. "A Prayer from the Eiffel Tower" orchestrates a heady polyphony of Parisians — a nervous clothing salesman who is happy only in his car or when his till is full, a besotted couple who know they are unique in their bliss — offering acerbic and sometimes hilarious observations on the state of the nation, and often dodging the obvious. "The Return of Fantômas" broadens the film's scope to examine the social and political history of Paris, including recent street demonstrations, racial tensions, and — the future always contiguous with the past in Marker's cinema — technological revolution. (Alain Resnais and Marker's usual feline menagerie appear fleetingly.)
"Is this the most beautiful city in the
world?" Marker muses. "One would like to
see it for the first time." In its philosophical
and poetic profusion, Le Joli mai allows us
that virginal vantage.
Restoration and digitization made possible by the Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée and the Archives françaises du film. Special thanks to Icarus Films.